Posts Tagged ‘EcoTravel’


Eagle/Osprey Boat Cruises on the Connecticut River

Friday, April 7th, 2017

Don’t Miss The Boat! Saturday, April 29 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Come search for majestic Bald Eagles and welcome Connecticut River Osprey back to their breeding grounds. Cruises will be aboard the motor vessel Becky Thatcher and leave from Eagle Landing State park in Haddam. Connecticut Audubon Society naturalists are on board the vessel to assist in bird identification and share information about the Connecticut River, the birdlife, and natural history.

Click here to make reservations online or call us at 860-767-0660 Monday through Friday.

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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Bird Finder for January 19: Ross’s Goose, a Connecticut Rarity

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Goose, Ross 2m Jan2011DickDanielsRoss’s Goose
Chen rossii

by Andy Griswold, Director of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s EcoTravel program

Grab your spotting scope and head to East Windsor to look for this rare visitor to Connecticut (and several other rare visitors as well).

Ross’s Goose is the smallest of our North American goose species, significantly smaller than its very similar looking cousin the Snow Goose. When comparing these two species, look for the tiny bill and distinctively diminutive shape of the Ross’s; petite compared to the more wedge-shaped of the Snow Goose. As with Snow Goose, Ross’s has two color forms, dark and white. Be sure to study the subtle differences of body plumages.

More commonly found on the central flyway during winter months, this is a great bird for Connecticut. The Connecticut location has been on and in the area of Broad Brook Mill Pond in East Windsor. Find the large group of Canada Goose and start looking through the flock for any white goose. A spotting scope is definitely needed as the bird can sometimes be a good distance away at this site.

If you really want to see Ross’s Goose in good numbers, join us for one of our frequent trips to Arkansas during winter months. The area we visit in Arkansas is called “The Rice Capital of North America” and the geese know to take advantage of these dormant fields as a winter feeding ground.

Interestingly there have been a number of other fine goose species discovered among the thousands of Canadas in this East Windsor flock, including Pink-footed Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, and Cackling Goose, the Pink-footed being the rarest of the group (although this is not its first occurrence in our state).

Ross’s Goose has enjoyed a significant increase in its population size because of changed agricultural practices and diminished hunting pressures since hitting a low number of 2,000 to 3,000 individuals in the early 1950s. Now estimated at over two million individuals, there is concern, in conjunction with a similar increase in population for Snow Goose, that the Arctic wetland habitat where they nest may be in peril due to overpopulation.

Photo by Dick Daniels,

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Bird Finder for November 12: Red-headed Woodpecker

Thursday, November 12th, 2015
Woodpecker,_Red-headed_2012bRed-headed Woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus

by Andy Griswold, EcoTravel Director
This almost unmistakable bird is more commonly found to our west and south but this year there have been a number of sightings in Connecticut and surrounding states. The questions may be: is this species expanding its range, just having to go further afield in search of food or taking advantage of our abundant acorn supply this year?

What it looks like: This boldly, contrasting plumaged species is notable for its scarlet red head, pure white body, and jet black wings with white secondaries, as if dressed for a formal occasion. Most sightings in Connecticut are of young birds whose patterning is similar to the adult but differing in having brown head color. The lower back in all plumages appears white and is a distinctive field mark.

Where to find it: Over the last week and weekend there have been a few sightings in Connecticut including at Old Saybrook, Old Lyme, and Lighthouse Point in East Haven. This bird could be found almost anywhere throughout our state where there are open forests with little understory. Beaver swamps are a good place to look as are along tree rows near open field.

Woodpecker,_Red-headed_LauraGoochHow to find it: In many cases you will hear this bird before you see it, its call described as a shrill, hoarse tchur, like a Red-bellied Woodpecker’s but less vibrant and variable.

What if it isn’t there: In all habitats where you will find Red-headed Woodpecker other woodpecker species are abundant, including our largest, the Pileated Woodpecker, as well as Red-bellied Woodpecker and perhaps Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Conservation status: Red-headed Woodpecker populations have declined significantly over the last 50 years due to habitat loss and changes in available food supply; 70 percent according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Dependent on nut crops produced by mature forest, the start of the  bird’s decline can be tracked back to the blight affecting American Chestnut in the early 1900s. In part, historically there has been a decline associated with trapping of beavers and the loss of associated beaver pond habitat.
Photos by Dick Daniels, top, and Laura Gooch,
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Tree Swallow: Bird Finder for September 15

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Mark Jankura Tree Swallow IIITree Swallow
Tachycineta bicolor

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by Andy Griswold
At this time of year you can witness one of the world’s most spectacular avian sights on the Connecticut River, as thousands of Tree Swallows converge at sunset to settle in at a giant communal roost. Birds come from as far away as 35 miles, often creating a ballet of synchronized flight before settling down.

What a Tree Swallow looks like: This common bird species with its handsome deep-blue back and crisp white belly and throat should be familiar to anyone who gets outside between March and October. You may even have a pair nesting in one of your yard’s bluebird boxes. Tree Swallows are a hole-nesting species, using old woodpecker nesting and feeding holes across the northern two-thirds of North America. It is among the best studied species in North America.

Measuring just under six inches and weighing about three-fourths of an ounce (about the weight of three quarters), these streamlined, broad-winged aerialists are relatively easy to separate from other east coast swallow species. Males are distinctive, with their iridescent blue-green backs. Females are more brown across the back and juveniles uniform gray-brown.

Juveniles from May through September will show a pale grayish breastband similar to Bank Swallow. Some adult females may have a weak breast band, too. In all plumages Tree Swallows have a slightly notched tail, unlike the longer, deeply forked tail of the Barn Swallow and the square tail of the Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

Where and how to find it: Throughout the summer Tree Swallows are easily found in fields, marshlands, along the coast, usually associated with some body of water. A good place to find them is in beaver ponds where there is always a proliferation of woodpecker holes and good feeding habitat. Tree Swallows have a high-insect diet but can also feed on fruits such as Bayberry.

As for the fall spectacular on the Connecticut River, longtime Old Lyme resident Roger Tory Peterson wrote, “I have seen a million flamingos on the lakes of East Africa and as many seabirds on the cliffs of the Alaska Pribilofs, but for sheer drama, the tornadoes of Tree Swallows eclipsed any other avian spectacle I have ever seen.”

Connecticut Audubon Society offers numerous boats to visit this spectacle. The boats sell-out very quickly, so if you take only one trip this fall, make sure it’s this one. Call 860-767-0660 to see if there is space left and to get on a notification list for next year.

What if it isn’t there: Often seen with Tree Swallows in their habitat of field and marshland are Barn Swallow and Purple Martin. On the roost site, expect to see the occasional Peregrine Falcon or Merlin making a pass through the flock.

Conservation status: Tree Swallows are common but have seen a steady decline observed in breeding bird surveys since 1966, measuring a cumulative decline of over 36 percent. Despite this significant loss, the species is not listed as a species of concern.

One can help by offering bluebird boxes as nest sites, since many natural sites have disappeared, with lands being developed and standing deadwood removed. Managing lands for this species is needed, making it important to encourage open field habitat and not discourage beaver activity. Pesticide exposure is also a concern for this insectivorous species.

Photo by Mark Jankura.

Swainson’s Warbler: A Bird You’ve Never Seen Here

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Warbler,_Swainsons_CarolFoilSwainson’s Warbler
Limnothlypis swainsonii

What it looks like: Swainson’s Warbler, one of those “little brown jobs,” has been seen in the states around Connecticut but never here. As with the Prothonotary Warbler that has been visiting our Larsen Sanctuary in Fairfield, there is the possibility of an overshoot when birds move back to their breeding grounds, which reach as far north as Virginia.

Plain buff-brown with a washed out rufous crown, and a proportionately massive, straight bill, this bird should be in the back of every Connecticut birders mind during spring migration. Field marks include a weak white supercilium (eye stripe) and dark eye line.

Where to find it: Within its normal range in the south, Swainson’s Warbler is found in canebrakes and rhododendron thickets. A good place to look for this bird in Connecticut would be in areas where rhododendron, azalea, and mountain laurel occur with damp, shadowed understory covered with leaf litter.

How to find it: This extremely secretive bird should be looked for while it walks (rarely hopping) on the ground where it forages for insects and spiders by flipping leaves. It is likely that you will hear this bird before you see it, its song a series of slurred notes not unlike that of a Louisiana Waterthrush for which the song has been mistaken. My personal pneumonic is “sit seew se tsissy seew,” loud and ringing. See if that works for you. Learn the song and get listening!

What if it isn’t there: In this habitat and at this time of year look for other warbler species including Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Canada Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and more. Any bird walking on the ground should be given a second look.

Conservation status: Because this species is so specific concerning its habitat requirements, it is hard to accurately assess population numbers. The bird is certainly at-risk for habitat loss. It is a watch list species whose numbers are not likely large by any sense.The IUCN however lists it as being of least concern.

This week’s Connecticut Audubon Society Bird Finder was written by Andy Griswold, director of our EcoTravel program, and edited by Tom Andersen

Photo by Carol Foil, 

Audubon’s Aviary at the New-York Historical Society: A Trip for Our Members

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

flamingoAttention Audubon aficionados! Join Connecticut Audubon Society for our May member event: a trip to the New York Historical Society for a final viewing of masterpieces by John James Audubon.

Audubon’s Aviary: The Final Flight will showcase the New-York Historical Society collection of John James Audubon’s preparatory watercolors for the sumptuous double-elephant-folio print edition of The Birds of America (1827–38). This exhibition displays Part III of The Complete Flock. See Audubon’s watercolors of outliers and western species to bookend the North American continent!

Saturday May 9, 2015 7:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.

7:30 a.m. Departure from our EcoTravel office, 30 Plains Rd., Essex, CT.

8:45am Departure from Birdcraft Museum, 314 Unquowa Road, Fairfield, CT

Fee: $90 per person from Glastonbury, $85 per person from Fairfield. Includes transportation, guide and admission.

To register please call CAS EcoTravel at 860-767-0660

Machu Picchu with Lucy Bingham: An EcoTravel Bucket List Trip

Friday, February 20th, 2015
Machu Picchu. Photo courtesy of Allard Schmidt

Machu Picchu. Photo courtesy of Allard Schmidt

April 14 – 25, 2015     12 Days!

Follow the footsteps of the Incas and explorer Hiram Bingham! Leader is Lucy Bingham, a Connecticut native, outstanding travel writer, and granddaughter of Hiram. Visit one of the world’s deepest canyons and search for Andean Condor. Hike to ruins and relax in some of the finest hot-springs imaginable. Visit Lake Titicaca for a boat trip. Take a classic railway journey across the high plains to explore Cusco, the former Inca Capital, full of culture and history. Travel through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to explore the awe-inspiring lost city of Machu Picchu. Optional post-tour trekking on the Inca Trail. Fee: $4,798. With member discount: $4,298. A bucket list tour!

Thick-billed Murre: Connecticut Audubon Bird Finder for February 19

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

On a trip he led to Montauk this month, Andy Griswold, director of our EcoTravel program, found two Thick-billed Murres in waters less than 16 miles from Connecticut; and Frank Gallo, associate director of our Milford Point Coastal Center, saw one briefly at Hammonasset Beach State Park.

Thick-billed Murres

Thick-billed Murres

Thick-billed Murre
Uria lonvia

What it looks like: The Thick-billed Murre is in the Alcid family, composed of 21 species in 10 genera, found on both coasts of North America. Included in the family are familiar birds like Atlantic Puffin and Dovekie.

Two similar species to the Thick-billed Murre are the Common Murre (the less common of the two murres) and Razorbill. For comparison, the photos below are of the Common Murre (top) and Razorbill.

At about 18 inches in length, this is not a large bird and may initially strike you as being a loon or grebe. Distinctive among water birds, is the black and white color scheme of Alcids; black above and white below with a clear separation of the two colors, even visible as such while the bird is sitting on the water.

Common Murre

Common Murre

In winter, which is when we are most likely to see the three similar looking Alcid species, they are most easily separated by the Thick-billed’s short pointed bill, Common’s long straight bill and post ocular stripe, and Razorbill’s deep, blunt-nosed bill. With a little practice, you will be a pro before long. 

Where to find it: With the significant number of winter storms we have been experiencing this year, this is a species one should keep an eye out for. Check coastal coves, inland lakes, and anywhere you can get a big view after big winds.

How to find it: After and during heavy winds, look for a small bird on the water or buzzing by on a blur of wings. Look for the distinctive black above and white below. Using a spotting scope, scan the waters and think in “black and white.”



What if it isn’t there: Thick-billed Murre can be found as a single bird or in small groups. In the same area, look for many of the winter duck species including Black, White-winged, and Surf Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, and more. Common and Red-throated Loon, and Horned and Red-necked Grebe should not be far away.

Conservation status: Thick-billed Murre like all water birds are vulnerable to things such as oil spills. As this species is a diving bird, it has on occasion fallen victim to gill-netting. Populations appear to be stable or slightly increasing except for the Greenland population which is decreasing.


This week’s Connecticut Audubon Society Bird Finder was written by Andy Griswold, director of our EcoTravel program, and edited by Tom Andersen


Photo of Thick-billed Murres is from the Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds. Common Murre is by Bill Burton and Razorbill is by Wildlifeshoots, both from 


Common Redpoll: Bird Finder for January 29

Thursday, January 29th, 2015
These redpolls are eating thistle from a sock feeder. The bird in the middle is a Hoary Redpoll, the others are Commons. Photo by Nick Bonomo.

These redpolls are eating thistle from a sock feeder. The bird in the middle is a Hoary Redpoll, the others are Commons. Photo by Nick Bonomo.

Common Redpoll
Carduelis flammea

Common Redpolls are “irruptive” winter visitors to Connecticut. That is, they occur only in winters during which their food supply to the north is depleted. This species breeds in the Arctic tundra and northern boreal forests. Redpolls are absent from Connecticut during most winters, but over the past few weeks they have appeared in small numbers throughout the state.

What it looks like: The Common Redpoll is a small brown-and-white finch with a red forehead patch. Its small, conical yellow bill is bordered by black, especially on the chin. Its back is brown with white wing bars, while the underparts are white with dark streaking. The brightest males can have rosy red breasts, while females lack red on their breasts altogether.

Where and how to find it: Most Common Redpolls are seen eating seed from bird feeders, sometimes in the company of the similarly-sized Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, and Purple Finch. They can occur as singles or, if you are lucky, in noisy flocks of up to several dozen individuals. When away from bird feeders, redpolls are often seen eating wild seeds in weedy fields or trees and may perch rather high in treetops while not feeding. Listen for their short and harsh “chit-chit” calls. When in flocks of dozens this chattering can be heard nonstop. Redpolls can occur anywhere throughout the state, both inland and coastally, but they are most often seen in the hills of Litchfield County.

When to look: Redpolls have just begun to arrive from the north, and if history is any indication, their numbers will likely only increase through the end of February. March is usually the month in which they begin to migrate back north. A few stragglers may linger into April, but all are gone by the end of that month.


Male Common Redpoll by Bill Bouton,

Keep an eye out for: If you are lucky enough to encounter a flock of Common Redpolls and you notice a particularly pale one among the group, it may be the super-rare Hoary Redpoll. Hoary Redpolls, which breed even further north, occasionally wander this far south with Common Redpolls. Separating these two species is very tricky, however, and some taxonomists argue that they are in fact different populations of the same species. 

Conservation status: Common Redpoll is a species of “Least Concern,” and their large population appears to be stable at this time.

This week’s Connecticut Audubon Society Bird Finder was written by Nick Bonomo, and edited by Tom Andersen. Nick will be leading a Feb. 28 day trip for our EcoTravel program to northwestern Connecticut to find Common Redpolls and other winter species ( or 860 767-0660 for details).


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