Friday, October 26, 2012

Sandy bringing rare waterbirds?

By now it seems everyone from Florida to Maine is well aware of Hurricane Sandy. The system and its potential could make for a historic storm at a very late date. There has never been a hurricane making landfall north of the Carolina border in October, and the intensity of the system may surpass nearly anything seen this late in the season before. Nevertheless, after a flurry of incredibly unfathomable and nearly impossible model runs, the stage seems to be a set for a bad but not as nightmarish outcome probably more focused on regions to the south of Connecticut. This is the 11AM update of the projected track by the National Hurricane Center for October 26.

Much has yet to be determined about timing, track, intensity of wind speed, pressure, angle of attack, rainfall amounts, and so forth. The devil, as always, is in the details, but Connecticut is going to be impacted by Sandy in several ways pertaining to coastal waterbirds and their habitat. We all know tropical cyclones can literally reshape the coastline, and in some cases this helps birds with additional habitat created for Least Terns on enlarged sandy beaches. Irene did this in several key areas just last year. Any tropical-storm level winds sustained over a prolonged period will once again damage and destroy woody vegetation in near-coastal areas and on offshore islands.

This brings me to the birds of the storm - take a look at the graphic above and imagine Sandy centered on those dots in the track. Then divide her into four parts like a pie. Connecticut will get the right-front quadrant, the area of strongest winds, with the precipitation focused mostly to our west. This is also somewhat similar to Irene though further to our southwest (Irene made landfall near New York City). Still, this could be a stronger and larger system.

So what is important about the right-front quadrant? It is also where most of the very rare birds from the tropics and southern U.S. coast will be, and where more are going to be pushed in from the Atlantic directly onto Connecticut. Once again, think of Sandy centered on those dots, moving onshore in New Jersey or around Delmarva, and imagine her spinning in a counter-clockwise circle. Areas of low pressure spin in this direction in our hemisphere (and areas of high pressure spin clockwise). The winds would be coming right off of the water, and with an expansive wind field projected, thousands of seabirds and waterbirds picked up from other areas will be pushed here, seeing parts of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Masschusetts as the first piece of land they have seen in hours. Exhausted and lost, they will navigate to the land to use it as a place to rest, feed, or follow as they head back home. Some birds, like Sooty Terns, can be seen during the worst of the storm and quickly exit south as soon as conditions even begin to abate a little. Others, like shorebirds and waders, may be displaced for days as they remain in the area.

There is much more to come on Sandy but, if it comes in to our south in the manner depicted above from Delmarva to New York City, we stand a good chance of seeing some incredibly rare birds as we did during and after Irene. Please remember your own safety first during and after the storm, and keep your mind open to anything and binoculars ready! We would love to hear about any strange waterbird sightings as soon as you see them. Until then we can hope that the storm will dissipate as much as possible and end up much weaker than forecast for the benefit of everyone.

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Photo quiz - coastal waterbird?

This is a different sort of coastal waterbird - can you identify it?

It is a species that utilizes many of the same habitats as our shorebirds, long-legged waders, and even terns. It can be found infrequently across Connecticut in much of the year. Some of our volunteers have reported them on International Shorebird Surveys as well. Examine it and see what you can come up with, and I will post the answer in a few days. Good luck!

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.

Monday, October 15, 2012

International Shorebird Survey site forms

As we near the end of the International Shorebird Survey fall season I wanted to remind everyone of one final task we would ask that you complete - filling in the site form. If you take a look at the right-hand column of this blog under "Important Documents", you can see we have linked to a whole list of forms for the season for all sorts of species and surveys. Looking towards the bottom of this list you will find "ISS habitat form" which is the document I am referring to. This questionnaire asks you for a variety of facts in order for scientists at the Manomet Center for Conservation Services to better understand the location you have been surveying.

It is a very straightforward document, asking about the location, its characteristic, how shorebirds typically utilize it, what sorts of habitats are present, the human disturbance that occurs there, and so on. If you have any questions when filling out this form, please send them to us at ctwaterbirds@gmail.com. This document can be sent back to Manomet at the address included at the top. Your site new can be the name of the location you are entering the data in ISS eBird, and you can mention that is where you have put all of your survey results.

Thank you for all of your hard work finding those shorebirds! The results we have received have been awesome. If you have yet to enter your ISS eBird data, we look forward to you sharing it with us soon.

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dead Common Gallinule

Last week Anthony Zemba, the Connecticut Audubon Society Director of Conservation Services, had an unfortunate discovery while conducting his International Shorebird Survey at Durham Meadows. While on the road he discovered a recently struck Common Gallinule (what was until not long ago known as a Common Moorhen) that was crushed by a car. It likely occurred only minutes before he arrived, but was killed instantly with its neck snapped. The gruesome sight is below.

Millions or maybe billions of birds are killed by cars, trucks, ATVs, boats, planes, and more each year across the country. This was a particularly horrific find because the Common Gallinule is a state-listed endangered species. Suffice it to say, the last thing we want is to see harm come to even a single one of these birds in Connecticut. He could not tell if it was a resident, migrant, or bird that had dispersed post-breeding. Anthony also mentioned that people driving down that road often go very far above the speed limit, making these accidents all the more likely. He had even heard honking a little bit before and perhaps that motorist thought the bird would clear out of the road by blowing its horn.

It is a sad reminder of the introduced and sometimes entirely avoidable threats some of our most imperiled species face every single day.

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wintering long-legged waders

Sometimes we tend to think of long-legged waders as spring and summer birds, just like the Piping Plover or Common Tern. In reality, that is only their breeding time in Connecticut, and many of these species regularly spend the entire year in our state, or have members of the species that attempt to survive the winter with increasing frequency. One easy way to see a little more about this is to examine historic records, and the fastest (and free!) method to do that is to pull up eBird. I went ahead and pulled up the bar graph for all of Connecticut, year-round and all-time, and cropped out the waders.

Right off the bat, we can see that Great Blue Herons are a widespread year-round species for us. That is probably something most birders are aware of. While their numbers may decrease in the fall and increase in the spring, they are here for the long haul. A more surprising entry for some may be the Black-crowned Night-Heron as individuals and small groups typically stick around warm pockets of the state every year. Those who participate in Christmas Bird Counts may have known that one.

It gets more intriguing when examining the species immediately underneath both of those year-round birds. The Great Egret has been making a valiant attempt to become a resident in Connecticut. Increasingly warm winters and shorter seasons have helped some individuals hang on in coastal areas - unfrozen tidal marshes, for example. They are now an almost expected bird for the Big January list. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron has even been making strides at sticking it out well into December and even into the New Year! They typically are pushed to our south or succumb to the conditions in January, similar to the Snowy Egret that is following a similar path.

In recent years, a few of these species have been putting up high and sometimes record numbers in Christmas Bird Count circles like Stratford-Milford and New Haven. As the planet warms, they and others will be able to stick it out on the coast of New England more and more. For our purposes, we would love to continue to learn about these birds throughout this fall and winter, so please keep sending us eBird checklists that include them or any unexpected sightings as the days grow shorter and we dip below freezing.

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Great Egret and The Great Stratford Bird Festival

The Great Egret is the 2012 Spotlight Bird at The Great Stratford Bird Festival happening this upcoming weekend in Stratford. The festival is run by the Town of Stratford in coordination with organizations like the Connecticut Audubon Society and Audubon Connecticut. We bring the event to your attention not only because of the Great Egret, as it is one of our target species in the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, but also because of some of the events and the opportunity they afford to view shorebirds and long-legged waders that remain in our state.

First of all, you can check out all of the information on the festival at its website here: http://www.stratfordbirdfestival.com/

If you navigate to the schedule section you can see a rundown of what will be going on from October 5-7, with bird walks and trips along some of the great coastal sites in Connecticut. Additionally, Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds staff will be leading some events, with Corrie Folsom-O'Keefe and Scott Kruitbosch around all weekend for walks at Stratford Point, Roosevelt Forest, Boothe Park, and more.

The "headquarters" of the festival is Stratford Point, the spectacular coastal grasslands property managed by Connecticut Audubon Society. If you are looking for a time to take your first trip there and view the mouth of the Housatonic River and Long Island Sound from the opposite side (of the Coastal Center at Milford Point) this would be a great time to do so. It would also be a good chance to bring more people into the fold - family, friends, colleagues, whomever - and get them interested in birds and birding now so that they can be all set to join you in the field in 2013. We hope to see you this weekend!

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.