Posts Tagged ‘Nick Bonomo’


Roseate Tern

Thursday, July 20th, 2017
Roseate Tern
Sterna dougallii

by Nick Bonomo
What it looks like: The Roseate Tern is much like our familiar Common Tern in appearance, with a few key differences. Essentially the same size as Common Tern, its upperparts are a paler shade of gray, appearing almost whitish in certain light. Its bill averages less red and more black than Common Tern, and the bill is longer and thinner.

Its white tail streamers are also longer as compared to Common Tern. There is no gray on the breast or belly, though not all Common Terns show gray on the underparts at this time of year, so beware of that pitfall. In flight, the Roseate Tern has a narrower dark wedge on the outer upper wing than on Common Tern.

It gets its name from a faint rosy wash on its undersides that can be very difficult to see.

Though Roseates can look quite similar to Commons, they do not sound much alike. You will often hear a Roseate Tern before you see one, as they belt out their emphatic “kick-it” two-noted call. They tend to call most often while they are flying, so if you do hear one, look in the air instead of on the ground. (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has recordings of Roseate and Common terns, and others, here.)

Photographed on Petit Manan Island

When to look: Roseate Terns are locally rare breeders that arrive in our waters in May and are here til September. The best time to see them from land in Connecticut is during July and August, when adults and young have dispersed from their breeding colonies — including on Faulkner’s Island off Guilford and, most significantly, Great Gull Island, off the tip of Long Island’s North Fork — and associate with flocks of Common Terns in Long Island Sound.

Where to find it: Some of the more reliable locations to view Roseate Terns include Harkness State Park in Waterford, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Sandy Point in West Haven, Connecticut Audubon’s Coastal Center at Milford Point in Milford, and Cockenoe Island in Westport (accessible only via boat).

Begin by searching through Common Tern flocks for paler birds, and then check for additional field marks. Beware of bright sunlight making Common Terns appear paler than they really are. And of course learn the distinctive call of the Roseate.

Conservation status: The Roseate Tern is a federally endangered species.

Historically, the population suffered losses when feathers were collected for the millinery trade. Roseate Tern productivity has also been affected by increased human recreation and disturbance in coastal areas, as well as by predation by Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, owls and nocturnal-feeding mammals.

Increasing numbers of gulls and human activity on or near coastal barrier islands have greatly reduced available nesting habitat for the Roseate Tern population in northeastern North America. Many traditional nesting sites in southern New England were abandoned during the 1940s and 1950s when Great Black-Backed and Herring Gulls rapidly expanded their nesting ranges. These large, aggressive gulls stake out nesting territories in early spring before the terns return from their wintering areas. Gulls have taken over most of the outer islands preferred by nesting terns. (Source: CT DEEP;

Photos by Hilary Chambers, top, and Kirk Rogers/USFWS;

Bird Finder for December 21: Red-headed Woodpecker

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Red-headed Woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Two of these red-headed strangers have been spending time in Westport
By Nick Bonomo
What it looks like: An adult Red-headed Woodpecker is unmistakable. It sports an entirely red hood, a solid black back with large white wing patches, and a while breast and belly. Immature birds are slightly less distinct, as the hood is brown instead of red and there are a few horizontal black lines through the white wing patch.

They behave like typical woodpeckers so can be seen clinging to tree trunks, but they also spend time on the ground foraging for nuts or insects, and could be seen fly-catching during warm weather. At this time of year they may be seen stashing acorns in dead trees to prepare for the cold of winter.

Where and when to find it: Connecticut lies just north of this southern species’ normal breeding range, so this is a very scarce bird in the state. Typically each September and October a few individuals stray north and are seen in Connecticut, usually along the coast. Lighthouse Point in New Haven is known for annual autumn sightings of this species.

However this year several Red-headed Woodpeckers appear to be wintering in the state. Most reliably seen have been two individuals, an adult and an immature, at Partrick Wetlands off Partrick Road in Westport.

Conservation status: The IUCN lists the Red-headed Woodpecker as “Near Threatened” because it has undergone a steady population decline due to loss of habitat over the past 40 years.

Northern Goshawk: Bird Finder for October 18, 2016

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016
If you read and loved Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (or even if you didn’t), you might be wondering, “How do I see one of those amazing Northern Goshawks?”. It’s not that easy but in this week’s Bird Finder Nick Bonomo explains how (hint: visit a hawk watch this fall).

goshawk_northern_norbertkenntnerNorthern Goshawk
Accipter gentilis

by Nick Bonomo
What it looks like:
The Northern Goshawk is the largest member of the genus Accipiter in North America. Most closely related to the smaller Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, this bird combines features of both, but in a bigger, meaner package; all three are superbly built to hunt and eat smaller birds. Adult goshawks are very distinctive. Their combination of gray upperparts, white underparts that are finely barred, and a very strong white-and-dark head pattern is unique among local raptors. The largest females are as large as Red-tailed Hawks.

Immatures, however, pose an infamous identification problem. They appear brown and streaky like many other young hawks. Immature Cooper’s Hawks are very commonly mistaken for the much rarer Northern Goshawk. At this age, look for the bird’s bulky proportions; Cooper’s Hawk looks lankier and thinner-bodied than the robust goshawk. A Northern Goshawk’s wings have longer secondaries than a Cooper’s, which gives the wings a bulge along the trailing edge in flight while giving the impression of a broader-winged bird overall. Also note the density of the streaking below, as Goshawks are heavily streaked while Cooper’s have thinner streaks thus appear paler below.

Where and when to find it: Unlike the more suburban Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Goshawk is a forest-dwelling species that tends to be much more reclusive than its smaller Accipiter cousins. If you’re exceedingly lucky, you may come across a goshawk in or near dense woodland at any time of year. They are known as ferocious nest defenders, so if you accidentally enter a goshawk’s territory during the spring breeding season you may find yourself running back to your car with a screaming hawk hot on your tail.

The very best way to see a Northern Goshawk in Connecticut, however, is by visiting a hawk watch during late autumn. Anytime from now through early December, with a peak in November, you might see a goshawk migrating at such famous locations as Lighthouse Point in New Haven or Quaker Ridge in Greenwich. Typically only a handful are seen each autumn at either location, nearly always immatures, which goes to show how uncommon they really are.

Northern Goshawk (Juvenile), Jericho Beach Park, Vancouver, British Columbia

Conservation status: Since the Northern Goshawk is the most widely distributed Accipiter in the world, occurring on four continents, it is consider a species “of Least Concern” by the IUCN. However, locally, the goshawk is susceptible to habitat loss via forest clearing and fragmentation. North American populations appear to be stable.

Photos from Norbert Kenntner, top, and Elaine R. Wilson.

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Bird Finder for April 20: Palm Warbler

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016
Warbler,_Palm_KellyAzarPalm Warbler
Setophaga palmarum

by Nick Bonomo

If you wait until May to look for spring warblers in Connecticut, you might miss seeing this gem.
What it looks like: At this time of year Palm Warblers have entirely bright yellow underparts with fine dark steaks on their breast sides. They have a rusty red cap that is most colorful in males, an eyebrow that is just as yellow as the breast, and olive-brown upper parts without wing bars. The rump (the area between the back and the base of the tail) is lime green. The tail is rather long for a warbler; it appears black-and-white from below and dark olive from above.

Behavior is just as useful as plumage when identifying this bird, as they are one of few warblers that constantly pump their tails up and down as they forage for insects.

Where to find it: During migration Palm Warblers may be seen in any patch of woodland, thicket, or field edge. While some warbler species tend to favor one particular level of the canopy or understory, Palm Warblers can be seen anywhere from the upper canopy to the ground itself.

When to look: This species’ spring passage through Connecticut to its Canadian breeding ground peaks during the second half of April, and numbers quickly drop once the calendar turns to May. Nearly all of them have passed through by Mothers Day, when most warbler species have yet to reach their peak.

Conservation status: Palm Warbler, a widespread North American species, is listed by the IUCN as a species of “Least Concern,” so the large population appears to be stable at this time.

Photo by Kelly Azar,

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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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