Posts Tagged ‘Andy Griswold’


Bird Finder for January 27, 2017: Harlequin Duck

Friday, January 27th, 2017
Harlequin Duck
Histrionicus histrionicus

by Andy Griswold, Director of Connecticut Audubon Society’s EcoTravel Program
Taking its name from a colorfully dressed character in Commedia dell’arte and long touted to be the “fashion plate of the winter seas,” Harlequin Duck is a rare sight in Connecticut, but travelers are nearly guaranteed to see them at Sachuest Point in Rhode Island, where a large percentage of the dwindling North American population spends the winter, or over on Long Island.

There have been a number of sightings in Connecticut this winter, but none  currently. We have trips planned to look for Harlequins (and other birds) in Rhode Island and Montauk over the next several weeks and we invite you to join us. Details are below.

The adult is a medium-sized diving duck with a white patch in front of the eyes and a round white ear spot. The male’s plumage features a striking slate-blue body, large white crescent in front of the eye, and chestnut-brown flanks. The magnificent plumage, on par with the male Wood Duck, makes this a much-sought-after winter visitor. Females are dusky brown with two or three round white spots on the head.
More than half of the eastern North American population of Harlequin Duck winters along the Maine coast, but a large portion make it to rocky shores further south where you can see them diving between the rocks and crashing waves in search of fish and marine invertebrates. When nesting, the preference is for areas where there are fast moving waters, such as rocky freshwater streams.
The oldest recorded wild Harlequin Duck, a banded male, was at least 20 years and 9 months old when seen in British Columbia in 2014.
According to Cornell University, “There is little information on Harlequin Duck population numbers and trends, but wintering populations in eastern North America are currently much smaller than historical (late 1800s) numbers. However, populations grew in the last part of 20th century. The species rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Harlequin Duck is not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds Watch List. The species is listed as endangered in Canada, threatened in Maine, and a species of special concern in western states.”
If you would like to join Connecticut Audubon Society EcoTravel to see this bird, we are offering two wonderful experiences, the first a day trip to Rhode Island on Wednesday, February 8. The second is a two night overnight tour to Montauk, from February 10 through 12.

In addition to the Harlequin Duck, Rhode Island’s coast and Montauk’s shoreline are ideal spots to look for other wintering ducks and alcids. All three scoters can be found as well as Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, and occasionally a rarity like King Eider or Barrow’s Goldeneye. At Montauk, the most common among the alcids is the penguin of the north, the Razorbill.

Call our EcoTravel Office at 860-767-0660 for more information and to register.


Photo: Jersey Birds


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Northern Gannet: Bird Finder for December 2, 2016

Thursday, December 1st, 2016
Northern Gannet, Bonaventure Island, Near Perce, Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec

Northern Gannet, Bonaventure Island, Near Perce, Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec

Northern Gannet
Morus bassanus

by Andy Griswold, Director, Connecticut Audubon Society EcoTravel
Birders call the activity of scanning salt waters for birds a “sea watch” and the Connecticut coast can be a good place if the weather conditions are favorable. Hurricanes are best. When winds howl, storms brew, or winter sets in, the Northern Gannet can be found in Long Island Sound without too much effort.

What it looks like: The Northern Gannet is a large, soaring bird of sea and sound. On occasion during severe storms, it may be seen inland, briefly. The adult, with its primarily white plumage featuring black wingtips, exhibits a unique silhouette among northern east coast species. The long pointed wings (72-inch wingspan) and pointed beak and tail, are distinguishable from a far distance. At even greater distances, the gannet’s soaring, short, stiff wingbeats, and spectacular dive-feeding behavior from as high as 130 feet, make for an easy identification. Young birds are a mix of dark and light, brown and gray tones, taking three to four years to acquire the adult plumage.

How to find it: The best way to find this species is to monitor weather patterns and time your visit to the coast accordingly. Strong winds from the northeast to southeast are likely to drive this species into Long Island Sound, often in good numbers. Feeding flocks and parades of birds can sometimes number in the hundreds. Coastal areas with a 180 degree view are best. Traveling east in the Sound may sometime increase your chances at finding them.
Northern Gannets are often associated with gulls that may also be feeding on schools of fish just below the water surface or following a fishing vessel pulling up its catch. During storm conditions, gannets may be seen with shearwaters, Razorbills, storm-petrels, and other pelagic species.
Nesting in only a few large colonies along the North Atlantic, the Northern Gannet spends most months at sea. North American populations are stable with an estimated population of over 155,000 individuals.
Increase your chance at seeing these birds with a good spotting scope! Quality optics will enhance the experience, so call the Connecticut Audubon Society EcoTravel office for your binocular and scope needs. We offer Swarovski and Vortex quality equipment, a perfect gift for holidays! 860-767-0660.

Proceeds fund our conservation work here in Connecticut.

Photo by Alan D. Wilson,

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Bird Finder for March 21: Mew Gull

Monday, March 21st, 2016
Gull,_Mew_HMBMew Gull
Larus canus

by Andy Griswold
Director of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s EcoTravel program
The smallest of the “white-headed” gulls in North America, the Mew Gull

is not a species commonly found in Connecticut. Its more typical range, close to us, is in Europe where the subspecies is called the Common Gull, and along the United States west coast where the subspecies is referred to as the Short-billed Gull. The European subspecies has been recorded for Connecticut in recent years, but the American subspecies has not — until now.

Where to find it: Both were observed at Hammonasset Beach State Park on Sunday by Nick Bonomo, one of our very talented EcoTravel leaders and a regular Bird Finder contributor.

If you go, head east (left) at the park’s rotary and drive to Meig’s Point, the furthest part of the park. The two birds were seen among the plankton-feeding gull flock.

Check to Connecticut Ornithological Society’s daily listing before you go. 

What it looks like: David Sibley in his Guide to Birds does a fine job of separating the two subspecies and comparing them to the similar Ring-billed Gull. The first clue that you are not looking at the familiar Ring-billed should be the “delicate” appearance, extensive brown smudginess around the head and neck, and the dark eye that makes Mew Gull look like it has used mascara. Both Mew Gull subspecies are darker backed than Ring-billed.

Successfully telling the two Mew Gull subspecies apart in the field will depend heavily on how close you are to them and lighting conditions. Both birds at Hammonasset are presumed to be adults so pay special attention to any markings across the nape and back, and if there are any dark markings on the tertials. Study your Sibley Guide before you go.

Other birds to look for: Keep an eye out for Bonaparte’s Gull, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, and other early spring vagrants. Hammonasset is undoubtedly one of the top five birding sites in the state.

Conservation status: Mew Gull is not considered a species of conservation concern because of its large population and an extremely large global distribution. None the less, it is a special bird for Connecticut!

Mew Gull photo by Dick Daniels, 


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