Patrick Comins’s guide to a great 2019 Birdathon
by Patrick Comins
For those of you planning to participate in our #MigrationMadness Birdathon, here’s my guide to some birds it will be possible to find, but can easily be missed even with fairly intensive efforts (widespread birds and real rarities not included).
It is likely that more than 200 species will be in Connecticut on May 18-19, but any one person getting to 200 is quite a challenge.
Aside from a few regulars like American Black Duck, Mallard and Canada Goose, waterfowl can be tricky to find in mid-May, even some of our nesting species. We do often host some stragglers along the coast or inland lakes though. It is worthwhile checking eBird https://ebird.org/ or the CTBirds listserve http://lists.ctbirding.org/pipermail/ctbirds_lists.ctbirding.org/ to see if there are reports of unusual species. Some species that are possible and worth a little extra effort include:
Brant, check coastal locations such as Milford Point, Long Beach in Stratford or Stratford Point.
Wood Duck. Hesseky Meadows Pond off Transylvania Road in Woodbury or Station 43 off Vibert Road in South Windsor are prime locations. You can sometimes find them at East Rock Park in New Haven as well.
Gadwall. Check the Stratford Great Meadows Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney Refuge off Long Beach Blvd. or the Birdseye Boat Launch in Stratford.
Common Eider are now found in Connecticut year-round, but you have to go to the far eastern shore. Harkness Memorial State Park or any of the rocky shores along the eastern shore are worth a check.
Hooded Mergansers are very difficult to find at this time of year. Great Pond State Forest in Simsbury is a fairly reliable spot. They also nest near our Pomfret Center. Otherwise quiet beaver ponds are best.
Common Mergansers can often be found along medium-sized rivers in the northwest part of the state. The Housatonic and Pomperaug Rivers are especially good places to check, with the Audubon Center at Bent of the River and nearby stretches of the Pomperaug being a hot spot.
Red-breasted Mergansers are one of the later migrants and sometimes flocks of them can be seen flying far out in Long Island Sound from nearly any location. Their prominent white wing patches, sleek lines and very fast flight allow them to be identified from a great distance.
Ring-necked Pheasant do still count (though it is doubtful Northern Bobwhite is countable.) For pheasants, proximity to a game club is often a key.
Ruffed Grouse are very tricky to find anywhere in Connecticut. Our Croft Preserve on East Street North in Goshen is a reliable location, but requires a long hike to get to the good habitat. You can occasionally find them along Hageman Shean Road in Goshen, or on the road up to the top of Mount Riga in Salisbury.
Loons and Grebes
A few lingering Red-throated Loons can usually be found along the shore. Good places to look include Long Beach in Stratford, Stratford Point, Hammonsset Beach State Park or Harkness Memorial State Park.
Common Loons are perhaps a little easier to find, but keep an eye to the skies as you can often find them flying overhead almost anywhere in the state. Otherwise, the same locations as noted above or any large lake, particularly in rainy weather, are the best bet.
Horned Grebe requires a lot of luck and sharp eyes, but the same locations are also worth checking.
Most Northern Gannets have moved through by May, but you may be able to find one flying along the shore. The New London to Orient Point ferry is probably the best bet and you may pick up an unexpected treat such as a shearwater.
Most Great Cormorants have left the area, but check any flocks of migrating cormorants for larger birds mixed in or check the Milford breakwater or rocky islands for lingering immature birds.
Herons, Egrets and Bitterns
American Bittern is very difficult to find. Listen for its distinctive gulping sounds at night around large inland wetlands, but you probably won’t find one unless you know of a nesting area.
Least Bitterns can be somewhat reliably found at Station 43 in South Windsor. Listen for their Black-billed Cuckoo like calls (and please refrain from using audio recordings).
Little Blue Herons: Hammonasset or the marshes and tidal flats of the Menunketesuck River, but beware the similar hybrid Little-blue x Tricolored Heron that frequents the boulder pond at Hammonasset.
Green Heron. Keep an eye to the skies as you can see them flying overhead just about anywhere. Station 43 in South Windsor and Great Pond in Simsbury are two reasonably reliable spots.
Black-crowned Night-Herons can be especially easy to miss. Try the red bridge at East Rock Park, New Haven.
The marshes around Stratford Great Meadows are the best bet for Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.
White-faced Ibis requires a lot of luck, but check over any flocks of Glossy Ibis for this rare visitor to Connecticut.
Vultures and raptors
Black Vultures are much easier to find than they used to be. Keep an eye to the sky along I-91 in New Haven near the old landfill or along Route 7 in Danbury.
Northern Harrier is most often found flying over the marshes at Stratford Great Meadows or Milford Point.
Bald Eagles generally require knowing the location of a nest or seeing one fly over.
Rails are very difficult. Clapper Rail can often be heard or seen from Silver Sands State Park in Milford, Hammonasset Beach State Park or Stratford Great Meadows.
American Oystercatchers are best found at Milford Point on the sandbar in front of the Coastal Center or at Sandy Point in West Haven, but check any rocky shoreline.
Piping Plovers are also best found at the two above mentioned locations or at Long Beach in Stratford.
Lesser Yellowlegs is very easy to miss. Check the flooded marsh at Shell Beach Road in Guilford, but also listen for them calling as they fly over at night just about anywhere.
Solitary Sandpipers are even harder to find. The best location is probably Rocky Hill Meadows (if it has rained recently) or Hesseky Meadow Pond in Roxbury.
Upland Sandpipers are very difficult unless you get lucky enough to hear or see one while you are driving around the perimeter of Bradley International Airport. Rentschler Field may also yield some, but the habitat there has been much degraded in recent years.
Other migrating shorebirds require some luck and perhaps good ears. Check Milford Point on the sandbars around high tide, Stratford Point, also at high tide, Sandy Point and the Shell Beach pools. Listen for the distinctive high-pitched, insect like calls of the White-rumped Sandpiper among flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers.
Purple Sandpipers are also a specialty bird and it is worth checking rocky shorelines, particularly in eastern Connecticut.
Gulls and Terns
Most of these, aside from the regulars, require luck or checking eBird. It is worth checking flocks of gulls, as sometimes Lesser Black-backed, Iceland or even Glaucous Gulls can be found. Laughing Gulls are probably most regular at Sandy Point in West Haven and Bonaparte’s Gulls along the eastern shoreline.
Least Terns are generally most regular at Long Beach in Stratford, Stratford Point, Milford Point, Sandy Point and Hammonasset.
Caspian Tern most often shows up at the mouth of the Housatonic River or the Stratford Meadows Marsh.
Roseate Tern is nearly impossible, but Harkness Memorial State Park and Hammonasset Beach State Park are the best bets.
Royal Tern sometimes is seen from Stratford Point, Hammonsasset (at the end of the Moraine Trail) or Milford Point, but requires quite a bit of luck.
Black Skimmer is most often found at Sandy Point or Milford Point.
Both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos are fairly widespread, but are most often heard calling in the very early morning. You can hear them sometimes as they fly overhead at night just about anywhere.
It is worth looking up in the late afternoon or listening for the distinctive calls of Common Nighthawks as they migrate overhead.
Eastern Whip-Poor-Wills are very difficult to find, but one reliable spot is North Mulford Road in Meshomasic State Forest in Portland. Another spot is Naugatuck State Forest in the West Block in Naugatuck.
Belted Kingfisher: Two hotspots include the Audubon Center at Bent of the River in Southbury and East Rock Park in Hamden/New Haven.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are most reliable in the northeast and northwest corners of the state. Listen for their distinctive tapping, which slows down as it progresses.
Hairy Woodpeckers can become quite quiet this time of year, but the Audubon Center at Bent of the River and East Rock Park are again two reasonably reliable locations.
Pileated Woodpeckers: Listen for their calls in any large wooded block, but again the Bent of the River and East Rock Park can be reasonably reliable.
American Kestrels generally require knowing the location of a nest, but Cassidy Road in Southbury can be a reasonably reliable spot, as the Bafflin Preserve at our Center at Pomfet.
Peregrine Falcons are also very local. East Rock Park in New Haven/Hamden is a reasonably reliable place, but also keep an eye out for them at Milford Point or along I-95 in Bridgeport or in the Hartford area.
Monk Parkeets are best found near their nesting colonies, near Sandy Point in West Haven, Seaside Park in Bridgeport, or the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford.
Olive-sided Flycatcher requires luck, but keep an eye out on the tops of dead trees.
Eastern Wood-Pewee: keep an ear out for their distinctive pee a wee song whenever in the woods.
Acadian Flycatcher is a specialty bird. Reliable spots include the Bent of the River, Carter Road in Kent, Boston Hollow in Eastford and Nehantic State Forest in Lyme.
Alder Flycatcher is best found in open swamps in the northwest or northeast corner of the state.
Least Flycatcher has declined considerably in recent years and I don’t really know of a good reliable spot for them. Listen for their distinctive two-noted calls in wet woodlands.
White-eyed Vireos are best located in southeast Connecticut, with Barn Island Wildlife Management Area being the most reliable spot. Almost any powerline corridor with tangled vegetation in the southeast part of the state can hold a few.
Blue-headed Vireo is a fairly early migrant, but can be found nesting in places where healthy stands of hemlock still remain. Boston Hollow in Eastford is a fairly reliable spot.
Common Ravens are much easier to find than they used to be. Boston Hollow is a particularly reliable location, but you can often find them in the Meriden area or even at the shore in Stratford.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow: there’s a small colony at Hubbard Park in Meriden and they are fairly reliable at the Stratford Great Meadows Unit of the McKinney National Wildlife Refuge at the end of Long Beach Boulevard. Our staff saw a flock at the Portland Fair Grounds this week.
Hotspots for Purple Martins include Milford Point, Hammonasset and Stratford Point, also the state boat launch off Neck Road in Madison.
Bank Swallows can be very hard to find and often require knowing the location of a colony and/or learning their distinctive call.
Cliff Swallows also require knowledge of a nesting colony, but there are a few around the state which can be found by checking eBird. River Road in Southbury can often yield most of the swallow species.
Red-breasted Nuthatches are likely to be very hard to find since we didn’t have a good incursion this winter. Check pine plantations in the northern part of the state.
Brown Creeper: the northern corners of the state are the best bet. Semi-reliable spots include Boston Hollow in Eastford and Mohawk State Forest and our Croft Preserve in Goshen.
Winter Wrens are another very hard bird to find in nesting season. Check the Bent of the River, the Croft Preserve, or Boston Hollow.
Marsh Wrens like herbaceous marshes, which are few and far between in the state. Reasonably reliable locations include Station 43, Stratford Great Meadows and the Salt Meadow Sanctuary off Clapboard Hill Road in Guilford.
Golden-crowned Kinglets are one of the hardest species of nesting songbird to find in the state. Find a fairly large spruce grove in one of the northern corners of the state and learn to recognize their quiet songs and calls.
Ruby-crowned Kinglets just require luck, as most of them have moved through the state by this time in May.
The non-nesting migrant thrushes (Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s and Swainson’s) require luck, but one trick is to learn their flight calls and listen for them as they fly overhead at night.
Hermit Thrush frequents mixed coniferous woodlands in the northern corners of the state and you need to catch them very early in the morning. Boston Hollow and our Croft Preserve are two good locations for them.
Brown Thrashers are scattered and prefer dense tangles to nest in. Cassidy Road in Southbury, Hammonasset Beach State Park and Stratford Point are three places to check.
Cedar Waxwings: Keep an ear out for their calls as flocks fly overhead, especially near larger rivers.
Look and listen are in areas with large flowering oaks. Some particularly good locations include Yankee Drive in Southbury, on the way to Cassidy Road, the Audubon Center at Bent of the River in Southbury, our Birdcraft Sanctuary in Fairfield, and East Rock Park in Hamden/New Haven. On a warm sunny day, these locations can be very fruitful. On a cold day you might have to try a little later in the day. On a foggy or rainy day try some coastal locations such as the scrub around the Milford Point Coastal Center or the scrubby areas along Prospect Drive near the entrance to Stratford Point.
Some specialties that may require some special efforts
Louisiana Waterthrushes often quiet down this time of year. The Bent of the River in Southbury, Steep Rocks Preserve in Washington and Naugatuck State Forest are good places to listen for them, almost anywhere where streams run through the woods>
Northern Waterthrushes are often found at East Rock Park or Boston Hollow.
Blue-winged Warblers can be found at our Chaney Preserve in Montville, the Bent of the River, our Bafflin Preserve in Pomfret or along many powerline corridors.
Nashville Warblers nest in the far northern corners of the state, Mohawk State Forest, Croft Preserve or Boston Hollow.
Hooded Warblers can be found at the Bent of the River, Naugatuck State Forest or Nehantic State Forest.
Cerulean Warblers are very local, and getting harder to find because of habitat damage from gypsy moths. Good locations include the Miles Sanctuary in Sharon, Carter Road or River Road in Kent, Devil’s Hopyard State Park in Lyme and Pumpkin Hill Road in Ashford.
Prairie Warblers are often found along powerline corridors, but other places to check include the Bent of the River and the TNC Burnham Brook Preserve in East Haddam.
Yellow-rumps are early migrants, but keep an ear out for their distinctive chip notes as females are still moving though typically. Or they can be found nesting at Croft or Boston Hollow.
Grasshopper Sparrows have become much more difficult to find. Rentschler Field (behind Cabela’s) may still be worth a try, the perimeter of Bradley International Airport, Roberts Field in Bristol or Suffield Wildlife Management Area in Suffield.
Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows can be found at the State Boat Launch of Neck Road in Madison or at Hammonasset or Barn Island in Stonington.
Savannah Sparrows can be found at Good Hill Farm on Upper Grassy Hill Road in Woodbury, Suffield Wildlife Management Area or at Stratford Point.
Dark-eyed Juncos have to be found on their nesting grounds, which include Mohawk State Forest, Croft Preserve or Boston Hollow.
Bobolinks can be found at Bafflin, Rocky Hill Meadows, Topsmead State Forest in Torrington, the TNC Sunny Valley Preserve in New Milford, Good Hill Farm, Cassidy Road in Southbury or the grassland preserve just north of the entrance to Barn Island Wildlife Management Area.
Eastern Meadowlarks can be found at Bafflin, Cassidy Road in Southbury, or heard from the Mansfield Hollow dam trail singing from Windham Airport.
Boat-tail Grackles are best found at Stratford Great Meadows Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge at the end of Long Beach Boulevard, but can also be found at Hammonasset or the State Boat Launch off Neck Road in Madison.
Purple Finches are confined to the northern corners of the state including our Croft Preserve and Boston Hollow.