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Spring Migration Time!

Posted on Mar 30, 2015

Spring is finally here and new birds are arriving each day.  One species that has already returned from their wintering grounds is the Osprey.  They rejoin us each March after a very long journey as their winter quarters can be as far away as southern sections of South America.

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Audubon volunteers from the Menunkatuck Audubon Society have been hard at work for many years to ensure that their homes are sound and waiting for them when they arrive.  The return of the Osprey highlights one of the great conservation success stories of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.   In the 1940’s there were as many as 1,000 Osprey nests between New York and Boston.  Widespread use of the pesticide DDT caused a drastic reduction in this number, and by 1969 only 150 nests remained in the region.  Audubon biologists, including Connecticut’s own Roland Clement, furthering the work of Rachel Carson, played a key role in documenting a connection between DDT and the softening of eggshells in Osprey and other large predatory birds such as Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle and the Brown Pelican.  This led to the banning of DDT in the U.S. in 1972.  Since this time there has also been a concerted effort by volunteers and landowners to provide specialized nesting platforms that allow Osprey to nest off the ground where they are less susceptible to predation by mammals such as raccoons, foxes and coyotes.

Today there are hundreds of pairs of Osprey in Connecticut and not just along the coast.  So many Ospreys are nesting in Connecticut that the State no longer counts the nests.  The Menunkatuck Audubon Society began installing platforms in 1991.  In 2011, after receiving many reports of dilapidated platforms, Chapter volunteers began a program to inspect and replace aging nest platforms.  Since that time Audubon volunteers have been hard at work replacing dilapidated platforms along the shore between Madison and West Haven.  More than ten platforms have been installed or replaced by these dedicated volunteers.  They have perfected a design for the optimal nesting platform, which is available to interested landlords here: http://menunkatuck.org/conservation/osprey-platforms/osprey-platform-plans/

To find out how you can help, please see http://menunkatuck.org/conservation/menunkatuck-facilitates-repair-of-osprey-platform-initiates-inspection-program/.

In addition to these efforts to ensure that Osprey have safe places to nest and raise their young, Audubon continues to work at the local to international levels to monitor and address emerging threats to Osprey to ensure that these gains are sustained.  One area where we have been active in recent years is in ensuring that there is an adequate prey base to sustain and grow population levels.  Menhaden is an important forage species for Osprey, but had been returning to Long Island Sound in lower numbers.  We and other conservation partners submitted testimony to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in support of stricter harvest limitations and populations of menhaden have been increasing ever since.

Keep your eyes on the sky in the coming days and maybe you will see one of these majestic birds of prey flying overhead.

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Roland Clement passed away last week at the age of 102.  We are saddened by the loss of a true conservation hero.

For more information on Roland’s life and accomplishments (including a wonderful page on the Connecticut College site) and directions on expressing your condolences, see: https://kymry.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/roland-clement-remembered/

And please don’t forget to vote for the Conte Refuge! http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-national-wildlife-refuge/silvio-o-conte-national-fish-and-wildlife-refuge/ 

The Spring Bird Forecast is brought to you by Audubon Connecticut, the state office of the National Audubon Society. As part of the nationwide Audubon network, Audubon Connecticut works to promote better understanding and conservation of birds. Audubon Connecticut’s Spring Bird Forecast is provided in partnership with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.

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Rusty Blackbird Blitz

One species that is moving through the state right now is at the other end of the conservation spectrum.  Rusty Blackbird numbers have declined by 95% in the last 40 years.  One way you can help this imperiled species is to take part in the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz which is as simple as adding your Rusty Blackbird sightings to eBird.  For more information on how you can participate and how your efforts can help scientists learn more about the movements of this species, please see: http://rtpi.org/rusty-blackbird-blitz-2015/

Photo by Mark S. Szantyr: http://birddog55.zenfolio.com/

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From a Trickle to a Flood

Yellow-rumped Warblers are among the most abundant of our spring migrant birds.  While a few birds do overwinter in our area, the real show will get going over the next few weeks.  Because they winter further north than most other species they are among the earliest arriving of our spring warbler species and more and more should be arriving each day.  At the peak of their migration it can seem like every tree you look in has a Yellow-rumped Warbler in it.  Other early spring arrivals that are arriving now or in the coming few weeks include Eastern Phoebes, Palm and Pine Warblers, Eastern Towhees and various other sparrows.

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American Woodcocks are a kind of shorebird, related to sandpipers and plovers, but you don’t have to be at the shore to see this bird.  They nest in areas where dense tangles are situated close to a muddy area for foraging and an open area where the males can perform their elaborate aerial display flight.  In migration they can show up just about anywhere though, including suburban yards.  If you see a brown bird with a long bill doing a funny shuffling dance-like walk across your yard, it is almost certainly an American Woodcock.  It isn’t lost, just stopping over on its way to nesting ground further to the north and practicing its strut so it will impress the ladies when it gets there.

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Early Migrant

Last week it seemed like there were reports of Fox Sparrows from all over Connecticut  with nearly every birder in the state enjoying  one in their yard.  Fox Sparrows sometimes overwinter over in warm patches, especially along the coast, but the best time of year to see them is from late March into mid-April.  By the time May arrives it can be hard to find one of these beautiful sparrows in the state.  They have among the most beautiful songs of any bird in North America with a rich woodwind-like tone and complex, jumbled melody.

A selection of their songs can be found on the bottom right of this page: http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/fox-sparrow

The above Fox Sparrow was photographed by Mark Szantyr and looks a little different than the Fox Sparrows we typically see in the east, which sport a rich reddish brown plumage and a varying degree of gray on the head.  This is because it is an example of a western subspecies of Fox Sparrow which is known as a Sooty Fox Sparrow.  It is currently a good time of year to see such a western vagrant.   This bird was photographed in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 2010. A bird that is likely of western origin was also seen last week in East Haven, but the photos did not allow identification to the exact population to which it belonged.

Photo by Mark S. Szantyr:  http://birddog55.zenfolio.com/

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A Pretty Girl Stopped by the Office

This beautiful female American Kestrel stopped by the office last week and allowed us to get a few photos of her as she hunted along the tree-line.  These small falcons are actually more closely related to parrots and songbirds than they are to hawks and eagles, even though they can be easily mistaken for a hawk.  Kestrel numbers are much reduced in our area from even a decade ago, mostly due to loss of habitat and nest sites, but they can still be fairly common in migration from March into May.  A tremendous effort is being put into the recovery of our local nesting birds by volunteers such as Tom Sayers and Art Gingert and the staff of the Audubon Center in Sharon: http://sharon.audubon.org/

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Ducks on the Move

Waterfowl are another group of birds that tend to be early migrants, and March and April are great months to get out and see much more variety than you can see at most other times of year.  The above Surf Scoter were photographed near the mouth of the Housatonic River in Stratford, and good numbers of Surf, Black and White-winged Scoters,  as well as Long-tailed Ducks and Common Goldeneye are moving through the state right now.  Soon we should be seeing increased numbers of Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail and Northern Shovelers as well.  By mid-May we will have to put in great effort to see one example of any of the above species, as the vast majority will have already moved through.

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A Little Tardy

It seems that shorebirds are running a bit late this year.  By this time most Piping Plovers have already arrived and are busy setting up territories on sandy beaches along the shore.  So far there are only scattered reports.  This federally-threatened species had a great year in Connecticut last year with a record-shattering 116 fledged chicks from 51 pairs, due in large part to the efforts of our hundreds of volunteer beach stewards who helped to keep an eye on these birds during their spring arrival and the busy summer beach season.  Find out what you can do to help 2015 be another successful year by emailing the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds at [email protected] or by visiting our blog here: http://ctwaterbirds.blogspot.com/

The Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds is made possible by funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the support of people like you!

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Also Running Late

By late March Long Island Sound is usually teeming with hundreds of thousands of migrating gulls, along with many waterfowl, diving birds and a few seabirds like the Northern Gannet.  They come here to fatten up on plankton such as barnacle larvae and/or the fish that are also taking advantage of the feast.  This year the plankton blooms are delayed, likely due to the colder than normal water temperatures in Long Island Sound after our historically frigid winter.  It will be interesting to see if the birds will still come in great numbers to the late party, or if they will have already moved through when the feast arrives.

The above bird is not one that we are going to see large numbers of on the Sound though.  It is a Little Gull, a rare visitor from Europe that sometimes mixes in with flocks of their slightly larger and much more abundant cousin the Bonaparte’s Gull.

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Don’t Forget to Vote for the Connecticut River

In our last slideshow we let you know about an opportunity to highlight the Connecticut River and the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. http://wxedge.com/2015/03/13/vote-for-the-conte/

You can vote once per day to include the Conte Refuge in the list of the top ten National Wildlife Refuges in the country.  Please consider voting daily between now and the end of the contest at noon on Monday, March 30: http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-national-wildlife-refuge/silvio-o-conte-national-fish-and-wildlife-refuge/

Thank you to Shoreline Aerial Photography for the use of this beautiful image of our river!  You can see many more wonderful images of the river and buy a print for yourself here: http://shoreline-aerial.smugmug.com/Connecticut-Sites/ConnecticutRiver/Scenic-Connecticut-River/i-H7fFH2j

The Spring Bird Forecast is brought to you by Audubon Connecticut, the state office of the National Audubon Society. As part of the nationwide Audubon network, Audubon Connecticut works to promote better understanding and conservation of birds. Audubon Connecticut’s Spring Bird Forecast is provided in partnership with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.

Patrick Comins, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Connecticut
Scott Kruitbosch, Conservation & Outreach Coordinator, Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History