Posts Tagged ‘rare birds’


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;

Volunteers needed for shorebird monitoring

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Piping Plover on a Long Island Sound beach. Connecticut Audubon Society photo by Sean Graesser

January 31, 2017 – Piping Plovers and other coastal birds will be arriving in Connecticut in March. The Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds is recruiting volunteer monitors and stewards who are interested in spending their days at the beach protecting this federally-threatened species.

Monitoring and stewardship starts in early April and last until late August. The project includes not just Piping Plovers but American Oystercatchers and Least and Common Terns.

This training session is co-sponsored by the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds (the Connecticut Audubon Society, Audubon Connecticut, and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History) and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Training and orientation session for new volunteers will be held Saturday, March 4 (snow date March 5) from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Audubon Connecticut Office at Stratford Point, 1207 Prospect Drive, Stratford.

Past volunteers will be offered a refresher from 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

The sessions will review biology of the Piping Plover, how to monitor breeding pairs and chicks, volunteer organization and logistics, and law enforcement information.

There are changes to the process this year and attendance by everyone planning to participate in 2017 is important.

Atlantic Coast populations of Piping Plovers return to the Connecticut coast in March from their wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast and Caribbean. Their cryptic nests are extremely susceptible to human disturbance, predation, and tidal wash outs.

Volunteers work at locations across the Connecticut shore to observe the birds, record and report nesting data, and educate the beach-going public about the monitoring program.

Volunteers work four-hour shifts from April until the end of the breeding season (usually in August) and must donate a minimum of four hours per month. The work can be very rewarding, as volunteers will have the opportunity to improve nesting success for threatened shorebirds across the state.

For more information on the training session or for directions, please email the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds at  Reservations are not required; but an email letting us know you will be attending is appreciated.

Bird Finder for February 10: Rare Hermit Warbler Visiting from the West

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016
Warbler,_Hermit_FrodeJacobsenHermit Warbler
Dendroica occidentalis

By Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation
A rare Hermit Warbler was found in Barkhamsted last week and continues to be seen this week. This western wood-warbler is unmistakable with a bright lemon-yellow face, a grey, streaked back and whitish underparts.

This bird has been seen foraging along the water’s edge, across from the Post Office near the Rt. 318 bridge in Barkhamsted. About the size of a Yellow Warbler, this 5-inch, active warbler appears to be foraging for insects.

How to find it: It shouldn’t be hard if the bird is in the area. Check along the water’s edge, then in the trees and shrubs nearby for any actively feeding warbler-sized bird. This one is hard to miss if it is nearby. There’s a good chance other birders will be there as well.

Interesting facts: Although a fairly common western species, the Hermit Warbler has been recorded sporadically in the East and at least once in New Haven. Well out of habitat here in Connecticut, Hermit Warblers are typically found in western coniferous forests, usually in the tops of the tallest trees (like Douglas Fir) and is most often identified by its song, a rapid ze ze ze ze ze zeee!

Sometimes Hermit Warblers hybridize with the western Townsend’s Warbler in the Pacific Northwest where their ranges tend to overlap; the female Hermits preferring to mate with the male Townsends.

Conservation status: The IUCN lists the Hermit Warbler as Least Concern, however, because of its small range and specialized habitat, this warbler is considered vulnerable.

Photo taken in Oregon by Frode Jacobsen/

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Bird Finder for February 3: Blackbirds in Late Winter

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Black, Red-winged Alan_D_WilsonBlackbirds
Red-winged, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Occasionally Rusty, and Even Yellow-headed

by Greg Hanisek, editor of The Connecticut Warbler
Although the last few months haven’t produced a lot of cold, icy, snowy weather, it’s still winter. So as February arrives, signs of spring are eagerly sought. Among the first noticeable events is the progression of blackbird flocks, often large or even huge. They will consist of a mix of Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Any of the three can be the primary species in a given flock, although flocks dominated by cowbirds tend not to have a lot of grackles.

Rusty Blackbirds will occasionally turn up in these flocks, but they prefer wooded or shrubby swamps to open fields. You’re more likely to find them on their own in small flocks, especially now that (unlike the abundant trio) they’re in steep decline. Two Yellow-headed Blackbirds even turned up in Hartford County over the weekend.

Blackbird, Rusty MdfWhere To Find Them: Their arrival corresponds in part to immediate weather conditions, so a solidly frozen landscape will delay their appearance. It’s also worth noting that birds equipped to arrive before the end of February are also capable of wintering. In any given winter a few mixed blackbird roosts may be scattered around the state, but once the spring flocks start their march they quickly become an overwhelming presence.

Flocks will appear first along the coast and up the major river valleys, before spreading out to any and all open habitats. Corn stubble fields are especially attractive, and the birds will often rest in tall deciduous trees near fields in which they feed.

How To Find Them: There’s nothing tricky. A flock of several thousand dark birds, all smaller than crows, are hard to miss in an open area. They’re usually very noisy though, so you may be alerted to their presence by a dull din if they’re at a bit of distance or blocked by trees or other landscape features. These flocks are worth studying, because non-adult male Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds trip up many observers. There’s nothing like seeing a lot of them together in all plumages to help get a handle on them.

Blackbird,_Yellow-headed_EugeneBeckesNoteworthy: One reason birders take the time to sort through these common species is the chance to find a Yellow-headed Blackbird. Two turned up in Hartford County over the weekend, and were still there yesterday and today, on Vibert Road, South Windsor. Check the Connecticut Ornithological Association’s site to see if they are still being reported.

The spectacular adult males are easy to identify but disappear among a dense flock of other blackbirds. Patience is required as they move about. Female and immature Yellow-headeds are less obvious, so it pays to familiarize yourself with the more subtle yellow patterns they present.

As a cautionary note, also check the degree and extent of orange/yellow tones that can be shown by female Red-wingeds, as well as their bold supercilliums and underpart markings.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Photo credits, from top: Alan D. Wilson, Mdf, Eugene Beckes:

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Bird Finder for January 28: Painted Bunting in Stamford

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

fad2dd43-3a12-439e-9d90-905de181176fPainted Bunting
Passerina ciris

by Tom Andersen, Connecticut Audubon Society’s Director of Communications

January 28 — A male Painted Bunting that showed off its best colors in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was the darling of the media and a hit with scores of observers for weeks late last year. Stamford’s Cove neighborhood has had its own male Painted Bunting lately but the crowds and attention have been far less intense, which can make for better viewing – if it happens to show up.

It did not this afternoon. I spent an hour and a half standing in the surprisingly mild January sun waiting for it, to no avail. But from what I was told, its absence was a rarity and should not dissuade birders from trying to see it.

As luck would have it, the Painted Bunting has been frequenting the yards of David Winston and his neighbors, on Cove Road. David is a friendly and enthusiastic birder and is involved in maintaining the Cove Island bird sanctuary. He told me the bunting has appeared in his yard each day since January 16 and, amazingly, he and others think it is the same Painted Bunting that has been returning to Stamford’s Cove neighborhood for eight years (and definitely not the Brooklyn bird).

Painted Buntings are southern birds – they breed in the south central part of the United States, as well as along the southeastern coast. Andy Griswold, our EcoTravel director, points out that travelers on their April trip to Texas see it regularly.

David Winston took the accompanying photo; the bottom photo is a different bird and is from (by Doug Janson). As you can see, if the bird shows itself, it is unmistakeable – “a vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red,” is how describes it. Chris Bosak wrote about the bird for the Norwalk Hour.

Bunting, Painted Doug_JansonThe Cove is a residential neighborhood and Dave is happy to have birders congregate at the end of his driveway. Cove Island Park is across the street, so if you make the trip and don’t see it, visit the park and, especially, its bird sanctuary. Look for a couple of accipiters that spend the winter and a Red-tailed Hawk that was perched in a hickory in the middle of the park’s lawn, and for waterfowl on the tidal pond.

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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 December 10: Townsend’s Solitaire

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Solitaire,_Townsend's_DavidMitchellTownsend’s Solitaire
Myadestes townsendi

by Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation

What it looks like: A long-tailed gray bird of the western mountains, the Townsend’s Solitaire superficially resembles a mockingbird, although somewhat smaller. A slim grey bird with white outer tail feathers and a white eye ring, the solitaire exhibits a buffy wing stripe in flight. This bird may often perch on the top of trees and shrubs.

When to find it: A Townsend’s Solitaire is currently being seen in Cos Cob on Valley Wood Road, between house numbers 59 and 75. The bird has been seen in the treetops and along the powerline. Check the COA site before you go.

Birders are welcome but please observe private property and refrain from using callback tapes.

This is only the third record of Townsend’s Solitaire in Connecticut, one in 1939 in Hartford and one in 1983 in Bethel. Both are listed as “hypothetical” in Connecticut Birds (Baptist and Zeranski) because of a lack of photographic records but I saw the bird in Bethel and can vouch for it being more than hypothetical.

How to find it: Scanning the tree tops is perhaps the best way to find this bird, however, it has been vocalizing somewhat as well. Listen for a clear, high pitched whistle… “TEW.” Other birders are likely to be there, so ask for help.

What if the bird is not there: This neighborhood seems to be particularly attractive to birds. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has also been reported here.

Conservation status: The IUCN lists the Townsend’s Solitaire as Least Concern.

Photo by David Mitchell, 

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State Rarity: Ash-throated Flycatcher in Westport

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015
Flycatcher,_Ash-throated_TJfromAZAsh-throated Flycatcher
Myiarchus cinerascens

by Greg Hanisek
What It Looks Like:
This is one of North America’s four resident flycatchers in the genus Myiarchus. The only species resident in Connecticut is the familiar Great Crested Flycatcher. All of the genus members are similar in pattern, with yellow bellies and varying amounts of rufous in the wings and tail. In comparison to the Great Crested, the Ash-throated is somewhat smaller with a smaller bill, paler yellow underparts and ashy gray tones on the throat and breast.

Where To Find It:
If you want to see one, you would normally have to go West, young birder, go West. But for the past two weeks one has been reliably found at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport. Check the ctbirds listserv to see if it is still around. It’s been very reliable and has been seen by many birders during its continuing stay.

How To Find It: The best way to find one in Connecticut is to be acutely aware of seasonal timing. Great Crested Flycatchers are fairly common May-September in deciduous woods, with a few present in late April and early October. Ash-throated Flycatchers, while rare, occur annually in the Northeast in November and December, sometimes lingering into January. Great Crested Flycatchers are essentially unknown during that time period. If you see what you think is a Great Crested in November or later it will almost certainly be an Ash-throated.

Connecticut has five accepted records for Ash-throated, ranging from November 12 to January 15, as well as a few other records that were likely this species. Careful observation and photos if possible are needed to confirm an Ash-throated because of its overall rarity and the similarity among Myiarchus species. But understanding of seasonal occurrence will prevent you from passing up an Ash-throated as just another Great Crested.

Noteworthy: Ash-throated Flycatchers arrive in our region via a reverse migration tied to weather systems moving from the Southwest region into the Northeast. This is the pattern that also sends Cave Swallows and probably White-winged Doves our way. Two other Myiarchus – LaSagra’s Flycatcher from the West Indies and Nutting’s Flycatcher from Mexico – have occurred in the South but not in our region.
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Photo: TJ from AZ, via

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The Whiteness of the Bird

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Albino SparrowAlbinism is rare in wild animals but a friend named Kay Eyberse took this photo of an albino bird, probably a house sparrow, in Taftville. When we asked her about it, she said there were actually two, visiting the feeder at her sister’s house.

Miley Bull, our senior director of science and conservation, said the pinkness of the eye marks it as a true albino. says this:

“A full or true albino (see illustration at the top of this page) is a very specific mutation with a well known genetic cause similar across all vertebrates. These birds are unable to produce melanin at all because of the absence of the required enzyme tyrosinase. All of the plumage is white and the skin is unpigmented. Even the eye is unpigmented, and appears pink or red as we see the blood vessels in the retina. Melanin serves some critical functions in vision and in protecting the eye from UV radiation, so full albino birds can’t see well and for that and other reasons don’t survive long in the wild. Adult full albino birds are essentially never seen in the wild. Note that the inability to produce melanin does not affect the red carotenoid pigments, so the red color appears more or less as usual on this bird’s feathers and bill. An albino bird is not necessarily all white!”

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