2018: The Year in Birds – and in Birders! Featuring Our Bird of the Year
December 2018 – It’s been an exciting, maybe even unprecedented, year in Connecticut for birds and the people who love them. A Little Egret showed up on a breakwater off Stonington in August, single-handedly boosting the marine economy as birders scurried to charter boats to get a good look. Just days later a Black-bellied Whistling Duck stopped to rest in Essex. It was the first time either species had been seen in the state.
There was lots of great action on our sanctuaries as well. Connecticut Audubon members and staff found, photographed, and nurtured unusual nesters, uncommon migrants, and real rarities. There were conservation successes, opportunities for ground-breaking insights and knowledge, and the simple pleasures of observing beautiful, not-often-seen birds, on our sanctuaries and off.
For some end-of-year fun, we’ve come up with a totally biased and unscientific listing of the top birds and bird happenings of 2018 on or near our sanctuaries. (We’ve chosen the best eight.)
Drum roll, please. Starting with …
1– Bird of the Year for 2018:
Pink, sub-tropical species makes first visit to Connecticut
For three weeks in September and October, a Roseate Spoonbill – a southern bird never before seen in Connecticut – captivated birders at the Milford Point Coastal Center and nearby Stratford.
It roosted in trees with night herons and egrets, flew over the marsh, hunted from a log in a pond, and fed with other birds on the lip of the beach.
2– Sedge Wrens at Bafflin
The attention in summer was on the Bafflin Sanctuary in Pomfret, where Sedge Wrens nested in a field planted specifically by our sanctuary manager, Andy Rzeznikiewicz, in hopes of attracting that species.
Sedge Wrens were considered “extirpated” as a breeding species in the state. And although a pair nested in Newtown without much fanfare several years ago, no Sedge Wrens except the Pomfret pair have been found this year by the 450 observers participating in the current Connecticut Bird Atlas project.
The nesting wasn’t a fluke. For years Connecticut Audubon has been managing the 700-acre Bafflin Sanctuary’s habitat for birds such as Sedge Wrens – species that nest only in large grasslands.
3 – Looking Over a Wilson’s Plover
The highlight of spring was at the Milford Point Coastal Center, where Chandler Wiegand, our IBA Coastal Ranger, found a Wilson’s Plover among a flock of shorebirds.
One of his main responsibilities is to protect the nests of the beach’s Piping Plovers, a threatened species. So plovers were on his mind. That day, one caught his eye.
“I noticed a large black bill. Immediately I thought ‘Wilson’s Plover,’ maybe from having seen it in Delaware.”
“Basically nobody birding in Connecticut today had ever seen the bird in the state,” said Greg Hanisek, editor of the Connecticut Ornithological Association’s journal, The Connecticut Warbler. “It was one of the best finds in the 25 years I’ve lived in Connecticut.”
4 – Purple Martins Majesty
In July, a team of volunteers led by Board member Michael Aurelia and Coastal Center Board member Frank Mantlik helped band baby Purple Martins from the Coastal Center’s colony. The birds, not long since removed from the state’s “threatened list,” continue to thrive there: 128 nestlings were banded in 2018, 107 last year, 93 in 2016, and 79 in 2015.
5 – Sparrow-dise in Wesport
As part of a major habitat restoration project at our Smith Richardson preserve in Westport, Executive Director Patrick Comins planted foxtail millet and other seed-bearers to stabilize the soil. And – because you never know – maybe attract birds. Then Patrick visited one morning in October.
“There were hundreds of Song Sparrows, a lot of White-throated Sparrows, many Swamp, a few Chipping, at least six White-crowned Sparrows, several Field Sparrows, three or four Vesper Sparrows, at least one Savannah, several Eastern Towhees, dozens of juncos plus at least three Indigo Buntings.”
A paradise for sparrows and their ilk. He dubbed it “Sparrow-dise.”
6 – One Rusty Blackbird and a Revolutionary Tracking System
Is it big news that a bird flew past our Deer Pond Farm preserve in Sherman?
In the case of the Rusty Blackbird at 2:15 a.m. on November 8, the answer is yes. That lone fly over – of Euphagus carolinus, to be precise – was the first bird detected by the Connecticut Audubon Society’s new Motus Wildlife Tracking System receiver.
The receiver at Deer Pond Farm and another that will be erected at Shepaug Dam in Southbury early next year mean that Connecticut Audubon is now participating in a growing, worldwide network of tracking sites that might well revolutionize bird research.
7 – Tree Swallows on the Lower Connecticut River
As natural spectacles go, there might be nothing in Connecticut to match the roosting at dusk in late summer of Tree Swallows in Old Lyme.
Each evening on Goose Island, tens of thousands of birds convene. Or is it hundreds of thousands? A million? Nobody knows for sure.
But now a team of scientists, with the help of Connecticut Audubon’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, is trying to find out. If they succeed they will have pioneered a method that will revolutionize the study and knowledge of Tree Swallows.
The goal is to establish the first complete quantification of a Tree Swallow roost based on an actual count of individual birds. The scientists are hoping their work establishes a method for other ornithologists to follow elsewhere.
8 – Western Kingbird, Bafflin Sanctuary, Pomfret
Out birding on a Sunday in September, Nancy Barrett snapped a shot of a Western Kingbird on a post and sent it to us several days later. Andy Rzeznikiewicz, our sanctuary manager in the northwest corner, set out to find it, without success – “No luck. Darn,” he emailed.
Nevertheless, it’s a subtly beautiful bird that shows up in Connecticut only every two years or so. We’re happy Nancy saw it and sent us the shot.