We have now entered March and are at the unofficial beginning of field season for coastal waterbirds. From this point out everything happens extremely quickly. Master monitors and birding veterans of Connecticut likely have a very good feel for what is about to happen, but those of who are new to volunteering or enjoying the birds of our beaches should not feel overwhelmed. Fortunately our fast-paced schedule can be set out and has been planned and maintained by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for years. After we at the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds completed our inaugural season we are more than ready to hit the coast for 2013. Here is a rundown of what will be happening over the next six months.
The American Oystercatcher is the first of our four focal species (also Piping Plover, Least Tern, and Common Tern) to return to Connecticut. Typically we see birds in a few locations in the first week of the month. In 2013 Connecticut had an individual or two remaining here the entire winter! Migrants will be seen more frequently during the second week of the month and by the third week they should be relatively widespread in expected areas. Piping Plovers return shortly after with birds typically being found at some of the more significant stopover and breeding sites in the second week of the month. Perhaps this year we will see birds even a bit earlier as they had been spotted as far north as southern New Jersey on February 28! Remember to watch for any color banded Piping Plovers and please record and report as much information on them as you can.
Keep in mind that March 16 is the training session for new monitors and refresher for past monitors. Once that is completed you will have some time to get to know your monitoring location before full monitoring commences in April. We will begin sending out weekly updates with bird data and general information. We will also begin to see the return of some more long-legged waders with Great and Snowy Egrets becoming common as the month passes by and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron plus Black-crowned Night-Heron beginning to move in as well.
In April we begin monitoring beaches across the state. This is when we will hope to have all of our monitors scheduled and set at a location on regular days and times. We still certainly welcome anyone to sign up throughout the season or to change their schedule when needed by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will also be requesting all of the data and information that you collect during your monitoring which can be sent to that same email address. We need everything you can tell us as soon as it is possible to report back to us. We really value what our volunteers discover and observe while walking the beaches and islands in Connecticut and it means a great deal in protecting our endangered waterbirds and ensuring their breeding success. Nesting is going to begin for both the Piping Plover and American Oystercatcher this month. CT DEEP will also be putting up string fencing around these nesting grounds and they will need all the help they can get from all of us. We will post specific dates for these fencing parties and ask that anyone who can contribute please do so.
More long-legged waders will be entering the state with the previously mentioned species widespread and abundant plus new arrivals like Glossy Ibis and Little Blue Heron showing up. Green Heron should be seen near the end of the month. Shorebirds will be coming through rapidly now. Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin, and Sanderling spend the winter in Connecticut but will be common now. Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Plover will become irregular sightings across the state. Birds like Short-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper and Solitary Sandpiper may be seen uncommonly. Willets establish themselves quickly in April and the common Killdeers do as well.
As we enter May we quickly find that Common Terns and Least Terns arrive in Connecticut. They are usually seen right about the first of the month in a few locations and quickly pour through Long Island Sound. All of our shorebirds are possible in the state during the month. The same can be said for other tern species including the more rare Roseate and migrant Caspian. May is most notable as the month where we can expect to see the first hatchling Piping Plover and American Oystercatcher. The dates can be variable depending on many factors that influence the success of nesting from tidal departures to storm systems to beach traffic to predation and much more. Nevertheless, whether it is a handful or dozens, you can anticipate seeing the first young of the year now. This means we will have to be even more attentive in monitoring and stewardship efforts. The weather will also be warming, beach weekends will become much more attractive, and holidays like Memorial Day will mean an influx of visitors to the Connecticut shoreline.
As we hit the official start of summer we have a lot going on all at once. This month has the most intensive breeding efforts going on by the highest number of species. It also coincides with the time that children and adults will be getting out of school and finding themselves on the beach even more. Our birds will be at a variety of breeding stages - there will be some young nearing the time to fledge, others just hatching and sticking close to their parents, and nests with eggs. Both Least Terns and Common Terns will have commenced breeding in their colonies and be sitting on eggs as well. Migrant shorebirds will have mostly moved to the north for their brief nesting window. Long-legged waders will be busy with nesting activities on offshore islands and other coastal locations. It may seem quiet from a birding level but it is one of the most critical stretches we have.
The beginning of July is always known for the Fourth celebrations and in birding circles this is no different. We will be monitoring beaches on the night of fireworks displays across the state and we will need all the volunteers we can find to help us. Even if you know someone who is not an active monitor or has not volunteered previously for coastal waterbirds perhaps now would be a good time to bring them out to the beach on a beautiful afternoon and convince them to help us protect these amazing creatures. Fireworks can be stressful on birds, especially parents with the many young that will be present in July, and stewardship efforts are bolstered to compensate for this. Southbound shorebirds of all sorts hit Connecticut in substantial numbers beginning in the middle of July. These birds are already on their journey to wintering grounds to our south having completed their nesting season! It is also a time to be aware of the extreme heat that can pose a danger to both humans and birds - please remember safety first and to stay home and do not monitor when the temperature surpasses the upper 80s.
When we reach August it will be hard to believe how much has happened in the past several months. It will be time to begin taking down the string fencing on beaches throughout the month. Piping Plover adults will be making a rapid exit, though sometimes a few pairs still are nesting again after unsuccessful attempts. Small numbers of juveniles will likely be all that we see by the end of the month. American Oystercatchers will be making a similar but less significant drop. Shorebirds will be continuing to pour through the state in large numbers as they pass south with other members of locally breeding species included. Long-legged waders and their young will fan out and feed wherever they can.
Common Terns and Least Terns may have some nests and chicks but for the most part they will begin feeding together in large groups. Other more rare species should be watched for as well. At the beginning of the month you may see many juvenile terns being fed but by the end groups of birds over 1,000 individuals will be mostly caring for themselves and readying to move to the south. It is a rewarding experience to know that you have helped all of these birds bring the next generation into the world!
That is a very basic outline of what to expect in 2013 - we will see you in a couple of weeks and will update this blog regularly with information, photos, events, data, announcements, and more.
Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.