Posts Tagged ‘Milan Bull’


Summer Tanager

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

May 6, 2017
Summer Tanager
Piranga rubra

by Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation
Although this is a common summer resident of our southern states, the Summer Tanager is a rare migrant in Connecticut woodlands, usually seen in mid-May. Lately an unusual pair has been regularly seen at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven in the tree line between the road closed to traffic and the harbor, offering some great views.

On their southern breeding grounds they nest in openings or along the edges of deciduous or oak-pine forests and during migration they often stop in habitats similar to their breeding grounds as well as parks and gardens. Look along forest openings and edges in the deciduous forests.  

Although Summer Tanagers are closely related to Scarlet and Western Tanagers, taxonomists now consider Summer Tanagers to be part of the cardinal family.

What it looks like: The Summer Tanager is the only all-red bird in North America. The strawberry colored male is among the most eye-catching bird of the forest. The female is a dull mustard color and can be very difficult to spot. Like many songbirds, the best way to find them is to listen for their very distinctive robin-like song and their peculiar pik-it-tukituk call. Look for this bird foraging in the canopy of deciduous trees but also sometimes in the lower shrubs in the forest openings and around parks and gardens.
Interesting facts: Although Summer Tanagers can eat a variety of insects and caterpillars, they actually specialize on bees and wasps which they catch in flight, then return to the branch where they rub off the stinger before consuming.

Conservation: Summer Tanagers are listed by the IUCN as Least Concern. Overall populations are currently stable with their estimated global breeding population at 12 million.

Photos: NJ Birds & Pamela Wilson,

Timberdoodle (aka American Woodcock)

Friday, March 10th, 2017
March 10, 2017
American Woodcock
Scolopax minor

by Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation

Few of the mating performances of our birds are more remarkable than the sky dance of the American Woodcock in early spring.

It all starts at that half-light just before darkness. The male begins on the ground with a formal “peent” that underscores the wild rush that follows.

After several “peents” he launches himself on whistling wings, sweeping out on the first loop of a spiral which may take him 300 feet from the ground. He builds speed as he goes, and louder and shriller sound his wings. Then suddenly with a darting, headlong flight, pitches back to the earth, his wings producing a strange, twittering whistle, landing nearly on the same spot from which he began. This performance is repeated well into the night.

This subtle, well-camouflaged bird is unique among shorebirds in that it has adapted to a woodland life. In the spring and summer it can be found haunting the low, wooded bottom-lands, while in migration it often resorts to wooded uplands, but never far from soft, moist earth where it probes at night with its long bill for its fare of earthworms, its primary and nearly exclusive diet.
The holes it makes on its nocturnal foraging are known as “borings” and are often found in little groups and are certain evidence of woodcock’s presence.

What it looks like:
Woodcock are a medium-sized shorebird about the size of a Common Snipe, which they superficially resemble. Relying totally on their excellent camouflage, they are difficult to spot unless startled and flushed, or walking with their peculiar bobbing, rocking motion.
A plump, buffy bird with a long bill and a pale, buffy breast, the Woodcock has black and grey upper parts mottled with slatey buff. Its eyes are positioned well back on its head so it can watch for predators while probing the ground for earthworms

Where to find it:
Woodcock frequent brushy wetlands often associated with alders or other moisture-loving shrubs where they discrete themselves during the daylight hours, venturing out into more open areas at night where earthworms are abundant.
At this time of the year (early spring), look for displaying Woodcock in grassy meadows with nearby woodlands just at the “witching hour” before dark. Some good spots include:
o The grassy areas on the west side of Silver Sands State Park in Milford.
o Deer Meadow at the Roy and Margot Larsen Sanctuary in Fairfield.
o The Smith-Richardson Tree Farm in Westport. A number of bird clubs offer spring Woodcock mating walks as well. Check
Interesting facts (as if you need more): A group of Woodcocks is called a “fall” and several colloquial names include “timberdoodle,” “Labrador twister” and “bogsucker.”

Conservation status:
Although the American Woodcock has been on a long-term population decline since the 1970’s, it is listed by the IUCN as Least Concern.

Photo by Paco Lyptic,

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Northern Shoveler: Bird Finder for January 6, 2017

Friday, January 6th, 2017
Northern Shoveler
Anas clypeata
by Milan Bull
Senior Director of Science and Conservation
One of the most distinctive of our dabbling ducks, small numbers of Northern Shovelers are most frequently seen in our area in late winter and early spring. Among North America’s duck species, Northern Shovelers trail only Mallards and Blue-winged Teal in overall abundance.

Their populations have been healthy since the 1960s, and have soared in recent years to more than 4 million birds (2011), most likely because of favorable breeding, migration, and wintering habitat conditions. Breeding mostly in the west, from Alaska down through the prairies, and wintering along the southern coast from California through Texas and Mexico, only small numbers winter up the east coast from Florida through Long Island.

What it looks like: A medium-sized dabbling duck, just a tad smaller than a Mallard, Northern Shovelers are characterized by a very long, spatula shaped bill which they use to strain the water for food. The male superficially resembles a Mallard with its glossy green head, but the white chest and chestnut flanks stand out in the field. The female resembles a small female Mallard with an oversized bill.
Where to find it: Shovelers are found in both fresh and salt water marshes. Lately, Shovelers have been seen at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Coastal Center at Milford Point, and also at the boat ramp at the foot of Birdseye Street in Stratford. This week there were reports of Northern Shoveler at Fourteen Acre Pond in Norwalk.
How to find it: Look for small flocks of dabbling ducks and scan for ducks with dark heads and white breasts. Often seen in company with Green-winged Teal.
Interesting facts: Northern Shovelers, unlike Mallards, are monogamous and remain together for long periods of time. When flushed off the nest, the female often defecates on its eggs, apparently an effort to deter predators.
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Evening Grosbeak: Bird Finder for October 28, 2016

Friday, October 28th, 2016
Evening Grosbeak (Male), Lac Le Jeune Resort, Near Logan Lake, British Columbia

Evening Grosbeak (Male), Lac Le Jeune Resort, Near Logan Lake, British Columbia

Evening Grosbeak
Coccothraustes vespertinus

by Milan Bull,  Senior Director of Science and Conservation

Those of you who have packed on more than a few years of chasing birds will easily remember the 1950’s and 60’s when Evening Grosbeaks were welcome visitors to our winter feeders. Usually they came in small flocks and mobbed the sunflower tray for a day or two, then disappeared. Being large, colorful grosbeaks with massive bills and dressed in black, white and bright yellow, they were always greeted with joy and amazement.

At one point in the late 50’s we considered them common winter visitors and a few pairs even nested in Glastonbury in ’62. Since then they have become fairly unreliable at our feeders, showing up irregularly during the winter.

Now they seem to be more commonly heard than seen, calling as a few pairs pass by overhead during migration in the fall and spring. Several were heard flying over Sherwood Island State Park in Westport and in the town of Canton recently, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your feeders.

What it looks like: Unmistakable. A large, husky finch with a heavy, pale, conical bill. Adult males are yellow and black with a bold white patch in the wings. The dark head has a bright yellow chevron over the eye. Females are mostly grey with black and white wings.
Where to find it: Usually near forests, if you are lucky, as their movements in the winter are erratic and seemingly unpredictable. They breed in the conifer forests of northern North America and the mountains of the west and make forays into the northeastern states during fall and winter. Each winter lucky lottery winners, usually in the northern Connecticut towns, will be surprised by a few pairs at their sunflower feeders.

How to find it: As I mentioned this fall several have been heard passing overhead during migration recently, but none have yet been reported at feeders. That may be a good sign that we may get some stopovers at sunflower trays (they don’t visit tube feeders) this winter. You are much more likely to hear them passing overhead where their characteristic calls, a running patter of loud, sharp “cheer” notes sound vaguely similar to House Sparrows.

Interesting facts: Evening Grosbeaks are attracted to natural salt and mineral sources, and can break open seeds that require up to 125 lbs. of pressure to crush.

Photo Alan D. Wilson/
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Bird Finder for April 13: Bonaparte’s Gull

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Gull, Bonaparte's_Biloxi2Bonaparte’s Gull
Larus philadelphia

by Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation
Spring seems to be the best season when the small, graceful Bonaparte’s Gull frequents our shoreline, flocking sometimes in the hundreds. Unlike other gulls which are often found in mixed flocks, the Bonaparte’s Gulls hang together in separate groups. This tern-like gull, with bright white patches in its wings, breeds in the boreal forest and is the only gull that regularly nests in trees around lakes and marshes.

During the breeding season, “Bonies” are largely insectivorous, picking small insects off the water or catching them on the wing. Along the Connecticut shoreline, as they make their way north, the “Bonies“ can be seen roosting on sandbars, or swirling over the open Sound dipping for zooplankton such as barnacle larvae.

What it looks like: At this season, “Bonies” are often in changing plumage. Most adults will still be in their winter garb, a small gull with a pale grey back and white underparts. Their head is white with a dark eye and a dark ear spot. Others may sport more of the black-headed breeding plumage. In flight look for dark edges to the white primary feathers, immature birds may have a brownish black bar across the base of the wing.

Gull, Bonaparte's_KenSchneiderWhere to find it: In the spring look for small flocks resting on sandbars along the coast, but especially at Sandy Point and the mouth of the Oyster River, West Haven, and at the freshwater inlet at Southport Beach.

How to find it: Look for a tight cluster of small gulls roosting together on the bars. These birds are tiny compared to the much larger Herring, Ring-billed and Great Black-backed Gulls. Their feeding forays are tidal-dependent, so they move on and off the bars with regular frequency.

Note: After observing a roosting flock, be sure to scan it carefully, as occasionally similar, but rare, Eurasian species such as the slightly larger Black-headed or slightly smaller Little Gull may be present. About 40 years ago, Dennis Varza and Ray Schwartz discovered a Ross’ Gull at Oyster River after carefully scanning a large flock of “Bonies.”

Photos by Dick Daniels (non-breeding plumage) and Ken Schneider,

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