Posts Tagged ‘waterfowl’


Barnacle Goose: Bird Finder for February 18, 2017

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Long-time birder Paul Cianfaglione joins our roster of Bird Finder contributors this week. Paul lives in Canton and is property manager for Hartford Audubon’s Station 43 sanctuary in South Windsor.

Barnacle Goose
Branta leucopsis

by Paul Cianfaglione
Where to find it: The Barnacle Goose is a rare species that breeds in eastern Greenland and winters in northwestern Europe. Barnacle Geese will show up occasionally in eastern North America, with the greatest number of reports coming in from Quebec.

Vagrant Barnacle Geese can also be found in Connecticut, with the most reliable location today being along the Connecticut River in Enfield, at the Donald Barnes Boat Launch on South River Street.

How to find it: This stretch of the Connecticut River offers overwintering geese two important requirements, open water and food. After spending the evening along the banks of the river, large numbers of geese will fan out from the boat launch into local farm fields to feed. Scanning the Canada Geese with a spotting scope prior to morning departure is the ideal way of finding a rare Barnacle Goose.  

What it looks like: The Barnacle Goose is a medium-sized species, noticeably smaller in direct comparison to the more abundant Canada Goose. Barnacle Geese have beautiful cream-white faces that immediately stands out from its jet-black neck, crown and chest. The back and wings are grayish, with black and white bars. In flight, the belly, undertail coverts and rump are strikingly white, which contrasts significantly with its wide black tail. The bill, feet and legs are also black.

Be aware of other waterfowl species that sport white in their plumage such as the uncommon Snow Goose, and the much rarer Ross’s Goose. But the biggest identification pitfall may come from the discovery of a hybrid or leucistic Canada Goose.  

Conservation status: Red List Status: LC – Least Concern. The Greenland population of Barnacle Goose has increased dramatically since 1959, from 9,000 geese to 54,000 geese in 2003.  In spite of the population increase, the Barnacle Goose remains vulnerable to human impacts because of it habit of aggregating in very few specific geographic areas during breeding, staging and wintering.

Photo by Andreas Trepte,
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Bird Finder for January 27, 2017: Harlequin Duck

Friday, January 27th, 2017
Harlequin Duck
Histrionicus histrionicus

by Andy Griswold, Director of Connecticut Audubon Society’s EcoTravel Program
Taking its name from a colorfully dressed character in Commedia dell’arte and long touted to be the “fashion plate of the winter seas,” Harlequin Duck is a rare sight in Connecticut, but travelers are nearly guaranteed to see them at Sachuest Point in Rhode Island, where a large percentage of the dwindling North American population spends the winter, or over on Long Island.

There have been a number of sightings in Connecticut this winter, but none  currently. We have trips planned to look for Harlequins (and other birds) in Rhode Island and Montauk over the next several weeks and we invite you to join us. Details are below.

The adult is a medium-sized diving duck with a white patch in front of the eyes and a round white ear spot. The male’s plumage features a striking slate-blue body, large white crescent in front of the eye, and chestnut-brown flanks. The magnificent plumage, on par with the male Wood Duck, makes this a much-sought-after winter visitor. Females are dusky brown with two or three round white spots on the head.
More than half of the eastern North American population of Harlequin Duck winters along the Maine coast, but a large portion make it to rocky shores further south where you can see them diving between the rocks and crashing waves in search of fish and marine invertebrates. When nesting, the preference is for areas where there are fast moving waters, such as rocky freshwater streams.
The oldest recorded wild Harlequin Duck, a banded male, was at least 20 years and 9 months old when seen in British Columbia in 2014.
According to Cornell University, “There is little information on Harlequin Duck population numbers and trends, but wintering populations in eastern North America are currently much smaller than historical (late 1800s) numbers. However, populations grew in the last part of 20th century. The species rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Harlequin Duck is not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds Watch List. The species is listed as endangered in Canada, threatened in Maine, and a species of special concern in western states.”
If you would like to join Connecticut Audubon Society EcoTravel to see this bird, we are offering two wonderful experiences, the first a day trip to Rhode Island on Wednesday, February 8. The second is a two night overnight tour to Montauk, from February 10 through 12.

In addition to the Harlequin Duck, Rhode Island’s coast and Montauk’s shoreline are ideal spots to look for other wintering ducks and alcids. All three scoters can be found as well as Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, and occasionally a rarity like King Eider or Barrow’s Goldeneye. At Montauk, the most common among the alcids is the penguin of the north, the Razorbill.

Call our EcoTravel Office at 860-767-0660 for more information and to register.


Photo: Jersey Birds


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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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Bird Finder for December 10: Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup & how to tell the difference

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

Greater Scaup, male in foreground.

Greater Scaup
Aythya marila

Lesser Scaup
Aythya affinis

by Greg Hanisek, editor of The Connecticut Warbler
Where To Find Them: Both species can be found in saltwater and freshwater, although neither is numerous on freshwater in Connecticut.

On Long Island Sound, Greater Scaup form four- and rarely five-figure flocks on open water and in the larger harbors, mostly westward, from New Haven to Greenwich at places such as Sandy Point and the boat launch, both in West Haven; Penfield Reef in Fairfield, and the Black Rock section of Bridgeport.

The best places for Lesser Scaup are more protected. They include the Long Wharf section of New Haven Harbor and Captain’s Cove Marina in Bridgeport, where flocks usually top out in the low 3 figures. Any of these flocks can hold a few of the less numerous species.

When To Find Them: Both species migrate through Connecticut as well as spend the winter here. Prime time would be late October to late April, with highest numbers bracketed within those periods. A few, especially Greater Scaup, sometimes summer on Long Island Sound.

Lesser Scaup, male in foreground.

What They Look Like: Ah, here is the rub. These species are very similar and require patient scrutiny to separate them. The firmest character, the long white wing stripe on Greater and shorter stripe on Lesser, is usually concealed on swimming birds. The once-touted color of the head gloss has now been so widely dismissed that I won’t muddy the waters with further discussion.

Other plumage features are subtle enough that it’s best to concentrate on shape. Here are 4 points for study: 1) Overall size. 2) Bill size. 3) Head shape in profile. 4) Head shape from behind.

1) Not surprisingly, Greater is the bigger and especially the bulkier of the two. This of little use on lone birds, but side-by-side the Lesser is clearly the more delicate.

2) The size difference is reflected in the bills — slender in the Lesser and more formidable in the Greater. Again this works best in direct comparison.

3) When swimming in profile with relaxed posture (no stretching, slumping etc.), the Lesser Scaup has a distinct knot or knob at the rear of the crown, so that the highest point in the head is behind the eye. This knob is sometimes apparent when the Lesser’s head is tucked. The Greater has a more smoothly rounded head, sloping backwards so that the highest point (which isn’t very high) is just above or ahead of the eye. But it’s important to note that head shape can change markedly when the birds are active.

4) The rear view is very helpful, but it requires patience to get things lined up properly. Look for the spot where the head pinches in at the eyes. Then look at the area above the pinch. It’s narrower and higher on Lesser; lower and wider on Greater.

Conservation Status: Birds of North America Online says Lesser Scaup is one of the most abundant and widespread of North American ducks. Its core nesting habitats are in boreal forests and parklands from central Alaska through Manitoba, and numbers of this species breeding in the Prairie Pothole Region have increased over the past several decades. Breeders favor large seasonal and small semi-permanent wetlands and lakes with emergent vegetation.

BNAO says Greater Scaup is the only circumpolar Aythya, and one of few circumpolar duck species. Less is known about its biology than other North American Aythya, in part because of its relatively isolated breeding grounds but also because of difficulty distinguishing it from the Lesser Scaup. In North America, most Greater Scaup nest in coastal tundra of the Arctic and Subarctic, especially western Alaska. Threats are minimal in the breeding area but more troubling in some of the urban areas where they winter, including Long Island Sound.

The Connecticut Warbler is the journal of the Connecticut Ornithological Association.
Photos by Len Blumin (top) and Rich Leche.

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American Black Duck: Bird Finder for March 5

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Duck,_America_Black_byDickDanielsAmerican Black Duck
Anas rubripes
What it looks like: Black Ducks are a large-bodied dabbling duck about the size of a mallard. They have a yellowish bill with a gray head and dark body. When in flight they appear to be black in color, which helps distinguish them when mixed with Mallards. When flying, the undersides of the wings are bright white. The speculum or secondaries are iridescent purple without white borders. Often people are confused by hybrid Mallard x Black Duck crosses.

Where to find it: Black Ducks are found in Connecticut year-round. In winter, they congregate mainly in saltwater ponds and marshes, or in small rivers with pockets of open water. During migration they can be found in flooded agricultural fields and smaller wetland areas. They breed mainly in freshwater wetlands such as shallow ponds, marshes, and beaver ponds. Some nesting occurs in saltwater marshes as well.

How to find it: Right now the main place to find Black Ducks is in brackish waters along the coast. The marshes around Milford Point are usually a good location but this year are frozen solid. The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge’s Great Meadows Marsh in Stratford has open water where some Black Ducks are wintering.

Most inland areas where Black Ducks might be found are still frozen tight. Some have been observed recently at the Quinebaug Hatchery Ponds in Plainfield. A few pockets of open water on the Quinebaug River in Putnam have a Black Ducks mixed in with the large flock of Mallards. Check any stream or river in the state that has small pockets of open water.

What if the bird isn’t there: At the fish hatchery, Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Bald Eagle, and Great Blue Heron have been observed recently. American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and Red-Breasted Merganser are regularly observed at the McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.

Conservation Status: Although they are relatively common still, Black Ducks have declined in number dramatically since the mid 1900’s, largely because of habitat loss and hybridization.

Black Ducks are more sensitive to human disturbance than Mallards. Large areas of potential nesting habitat have been encroached on by human activity and the birds shy away from using them.

Black Ducks, which are native to eastern North America, also hybridize commonly with Mallards, which are native to the prairies but which became established in the east after they were introduced for hunting.

According to Min Huang, Ph.D, the migratory game program leader for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Black Duck banding efforts over the past five winters have shown that 45 percent of the Black Ducks caught in Connecticut were hybrids. Throughout all of New York and New England, the number was 19 percent; in the mid-Atlantic states eight percent; in Virginia four percent; and in the Canadian Maritimes, 14 percent. Huang published those findings in an article titled “American Black Ducks, Mallards and Hybrids,” in the January 2015 issue of the Connecticut Warbler, the journal of the Connecticut Ornithological Association (which is edited by one of our Bird Finder contributors, Greg Hanisek). 

This week’s Bird Finder was written by Andy Rzeznikiewicz, sanctuary manager for our preserves in Pomfret and Hampton, and edited by Tom Andersen, Connecticut Audubon Society’s communications director.

Black Duck photo by Dick Daniels.

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