After falling way behind on editing pictures and updating my website, I decided to take a break from my weekly blog posts to catch up in those areas. With the weekly routine interrupted, four or five months have quickly passed and I'm trying to figure out where to begin again. For starters, I'll say that I'm way off target for my goal (lofty as it was) of 300 Connecticut birds this year. I'm currently at 230, and that's after some pretty good ones recently. I'll be very lucky to hit 250, but really, I'm not terribly disappointed since I've had plenty to photograph this year.
One reason for the shortfall is that a some of the expected, but more difficult to find birds that I have seen in specific locations near my home the past few years, I didn't see this year. Among these are Virginia Rail, Least Bittern, Yellow-crowned Night Heron and Alder Flycatcher. It's pretty likely that I could have found them in other areas, but I decided not to chase them around the state (chalk it up to time constraints and high gas prices). A lackluster fall migration resulted in lower numbers of shorebirds, and I missed seeing Whimbrel, Red Knot and Buff-breasted and Stilt Sandpipers that usually are annual checks and Hudsonian and Marbled Godwit which are a little less regular. I also had bad luck and timing with some of the rarer birds, missing out on Pine Grosbeak, Wilson's Phalarope and a few others that I made the effort to see.
The main reason, by far, for missing out on many birds is the ever present conflict between birding and photographing. For example, I usually visit Bluff Point State Park in Groton several times each year during fall migration when the weather looks promising for the spectacular morning warbler flights. With thousands of birds pouring out of the woods, I'm usually focused on the lower branches for slow moving stragglers that I can photograph. I miss 90 percent of the sightings birders identify with fleeting glimpses as they fly past, but do see some nice birds that linger in the trees although I rarely get any great pictures. This year, I didn't visit Bluff Point at all, opting for greener photographic pastures instead. As a result, I missed seeing Philadelphia Vireo, Tennessee, Nashville and Wilson's Warbler that I see almost every year there. Below is a selection of photographs from past years at Bluff Point.
So, on to the positives. I'll try to quickly recap of the first few missing months, starting where I left off. After the rush of spring migration, I usually turn my attention birds breeding in Connecticut, and spend a lot of time in the woods looking for bird nests. It's generally hard work since most birds do their best to keep their nests well hidden, but I usually find a handful each year. Of those, I'm lucky to find one or two that can be photographed without disturbing the nest or surrounding area too much. This is a delicate subject, but I try to be extremely careful and usually pass on any nest that can't be photographed from a distance and without disturbing the birds or the habitat. In March, it looked like my nest finding was off to a good start, when I found a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks building a conspicuous nest near the main road in a busy park.
I usually don't photograph birds at their nest until they are feeding chicks, since the risk that they will stay away or abandon is smallest then. But after seeing many walkers staring at the vocal hawks and fearing that the heavy human and dog traffic might force them to move the nest, especially as the weather warmed, I decided to try to get a few shots one morning. I was able to find a fairly clear view from across the road and photographed the male hawk bringing sticks to the nest. One trip it returned to the nest with a frog, then flew back into the woods with it a hundred feet or so and presented to the waiting female before mating with her.
I checked the nest each time I drove past but eventually stopped seeing the hawks there, although I could hear them somewhere near by. I should have guessed that the situation was too good to last. After the trees leafed out the nest was completely obscured by the foliage anyway. In June I found another Red-shouldered Hawk nest in Lyme in a much taller tree, and was only able to find a narrow window where two of the three chicks were visible.
It turned out that I didn't have too much luck finding nests this season, and didn't find a single songbird nest in the woods. I did find a few nests in open marsh areas including a Marsh Wren nest, a huge tube of woven reeds, that I decided I couldn't photograph without impact. I did photograph a Red-winged Blackbird nest in a cattail marsh.
... and a very low hanging Baltimore Oriole nest in a short tree growing in another marsh. While the nest looked very promising, the orioles always took a back door route into the nest, limiting the picture possibilities.
Looking to work on areas of different habitat, I went the northwestern part of the state looking for grassland birds, and was able to find some Bobolinks near their nesting area.
I also found Cliff Swallows flocking to the same small puddle to collect mud to build their nests under a nearby bridge.
Most of the birds got along just fine, but occasionally a skirmish broke out .....
..... resulting in swallow mud wrestling matches.
Closer to home, I spent some time checking the shoreline for birds nesting in the salt marshes. It seemed that fewer Osprey nests had chicks this year, or were well behind their normal schedule. Many platforms were damaged by the hurricane last October, and I saw many Osprey still carrying sticks to their nest well into July. Perhaps that affected their nesting schedule this summer? I saw a lot of Willets, often chasing around the marsh in noisy flocks, but did not see any chicks this year.
It was reported to be a down year in Connecticut for nesting terns, so I decided to visit a large skimmer and tern colony in Long Island. There were many American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers and Common Terns still feeding chicks well into August and the beach goers, birds and birders all seem to get along pretty well there.
juvenile Common Tern (above)
American Oystercatcher adult (left) with juvenile.
So after wading through the thousands of pictures from the trip to Long Island and catching up on the stuff shot earlier in the summer, it was about time for fall migration to kick into full swing.