Saturday, March 1, 2014

Seasonal overview

It is still cold and snowy, continuing a theme for this frigid winter, but we are now at the unofficial beginning of field season for coastal waterbirds. March 1 is the first day of meteorological spring and the birds seem to feel the same way about Connecticut. Everything is going to happen quite quickly from here on out! We at the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds are ready to go for our third season with much of the same staff in place that helped to make the first two so successful. Even more importantly we have so many of our master monitors returning to volunteer their time for our waterbirds.

For those new to the program, don't worry! The fast-paced schedule and busy activities have been successfully planned and managed by our talented friends at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for years. We are all more than ready for 2014 and you will be, too. Here is an overview of the coming months that can serve as a simple timeline of events.

American Oystercatchers returned to Connecticut in February! Despite the conditions the species usually arrives in small numbers before the snow is gone. They are the first of our four focal species (also Piping Plover, Least Tern, and Common Tern) to return each year. Piping Plovers are moving through the Carolinas at the moment. They seem to be a bit slower on the return than the past two years which were considerably warmer and featured better northbound migratory conditions. In 2013 they were already in New Jersey in February! I would guess we will still see a Piping Plover on a Connecticut beach at least by the midpoint of March even though the long-term patterns says below average temperatures will continue.

As we receive passage migrants please remember to watch for any color banded Piping Plovers and record and report as much information on them to us at ctwaterbirds 'AT' gmail.com as you can. This year March 15 is the training sessions for new monitors and refresher for past monitors. This course will be held at the CT DEEP Kellogg Environmental Center at 500 Hawthorne Ave. Derby, CT, a change from previous years. Once that is completed you will sign up with us for a monitoring site and then have some time to get to know your monitoring location before full monitoring commences on April 1. 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. We will also be requesting all of the data and information that you collect during your monitoring as soon as it is possible to report back to us. We really value what our volunteers discover and observe while walking beaches 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 though they will become common. 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.

Common Terns and Least Terns typically arrive in Connecticut around the first of the month in a few locations and quickly pour into Long Island Sound. All of our expected 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. If the extremely cold conditions continue these nesting cycles may be later this year. Nevertheless, whether it is a handful or dozens, you can anticipate seeing the first young of the year in May. 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.

June is one of the busiest periods on the ground as we hit the official start of summer. 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 formed breeding colonies and be sitting on eggs. 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 various nights of fireworks displays across the state and we will need all the volunteers we can find to help us. If you know someone who is not an active monitor or has not volunteered previously but enjoys the beach or nature this is a good time to bring them out on a beautiful afternoon or evening 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 and thunderstorms 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 or when the forecast is for severe weather.

When we reach August it will be hard to believe how much has happened in the past several months. CT DEEP will begin the process of taking down the string fencing on beaches throughout the month, once again with our help. 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 can be seen that 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!

We will see you in a couple of weeks and will update this blog regularly with information, photos, events, data, announcements, and more!

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