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.

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