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Great Backyard Bird Count

Posted on Feb 14, 2015

Winter Birds Forecast #6 is brought to you by Audubon Connecticut in partnership with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is here!  The count is sponsored by Audubon, Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and occurs annually over President’s Day Weekend.  Anyone can participate and in this case the world is your “backyard”.  You can submit sightings from anywhere, not just birds you see in your yard.

Observers from more than 100 countries are expected to participate in the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 13–16, 2015. Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at www.BirdCount.org. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible.


The above Horned Larks were photographed in Stratford last week.  No matter how cold it gets here we can still count on some birds to be here for this weekend’s counts.  Numbers of open country birds like Horned Lark may be reduced because of the deep snow cover, but there are always some windblown areas where some foraging habitat remains for these intrepid birds.

To learn more about the count, please see: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/


Arctic Angle

There is a decidedly arctic flavor to the weather this winter and some recent bird sightings are in keeping with that theme. This gorgeous white morph Gyrfalcon has been frequenting Wallkill, New York since Friday, February 6th.  There seems to be more than the usual rations of Gyrfalcon in the Northeast this winter including sightings from New Hampshire, Maine, New York and several possible sightings along coastal Fairfield County in recent weeks.  Hopefully someone will finally get a good view of the Connecticut bird over the count period so we can add this species to our Great Backyard Bird Count tally!

Thank you to Deborah Tracy-Kral for the use of her photos of the Wallkill, New York Gyrfalcon.


Great White Visitors from the Great White North

Last year 133 species were recorded in Connecticut on the Great Backyard Bird Count.  One of those species that we thought we might have a hard time getting this year is the Glaucous Gull.  Glaucous Gulls are among the largest species of gull in the world and their white wings are an impressive sight when they open their five foot wingspan.  Glaucous Gulls tend to frequent the gull flocks that are attracted to active landfills.  The state’s last active refuse landfill closed in the spring and this should make finding this species in the state much more difficult.  They can still show up at places like large dams or along the coast and one has been seen in recent weeks in New London.  Hopefully someone will see it this coming weekend!


Exception to the Rule

One bird that has bucked the arctic trend of late is the Sandhill Crane that has been frequenting a corn field in Stonington since mid-January.  Though as the scientific name (Grus canadensis) implies the bird likely has a northern origin, but Sandhill Cranes are highly migratory and should be wintering in the southern Great Plains or Southeast.  Each passing snowstorm increases the chances that this bird will move along, but it was reported as recently as last week.

These two Sandhill Cranes were photographed last summer in Connecticut, in much greener times.  Sandhill Cranes are now nesting nearby in Massachusetts and are occasionally seen in Connecticut in the summer months.


Missing the Snowstorm?

We had hoped for a repeat of last winter’s historic invasion of Snowy Owls into Connecticut and the Northeast, but so far sightings have been relatively scarce in Connecticut.  There have been good numbers of sightings in the Northeast, but so far only scattered reports here, mostly around the mouth of the Housatonic River in Milford and Stratford.  http://rtpi.org/february-snowy-owls/

Observers were heartened by a sighting of one at the Stratford Great Meadows Unit of Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge earlier in the week, which is where this bird was photographed last winter. I was even more heartened to have one fly by my car this evening as I was driving on Lordship Boulevard!

To learn more about the McKinney NWR, one of only two National Wildlife Refuges here in Connecticut please see their website: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/stewart_b_mckinney/

Or like The Stewart B. McKinney NWR Coalition on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Stewart-B-McKinney-NWR-Coalition/192744934245048


Finding Gold

Finding a Yellow-headed Blackbird in Connecticut can be a thrill any time of year, but it can be particularly heartening in the winter.  Not only is it a very rare bird here, it is always nice to see a flash of color to add to the winter palette and we don’t get too many flashes of bright yellow in our birds this time of year!

A Yellow-headed Blackbird has been seen this February in Salem in the same area as one was recorded on the Great Backyard Bird Count in 2013.  Hopefully it will be seen over the coming weekend!


More Avian Gold

The gold on these birds is a little more subtle, but you have surely struck avian gold when you have seen a Barrow’s Goldeneye in the state.  These rare visitors form the north and west often congregate with their more common cousins the Common Goldeneye. Can you pick out the drake Barrow’s Goldeneye in this flock of Common Goldeneye from Enfield, Connecticut last winter?  Males have a distinctive black shoulder mark, more extensive black across the back, a steeper forehead and a teardrop shaped white patch behind the bill.

Perhaps the same individual bird has returned to the Connecticut River in Enfield and is being occasionally seen from the Barnes Boat Launch and other locations along the river there.  Will someone find it for the upcoming count?


The Redpolls are Coming!

Send word to Paul Revere, the Redpolls are coming!  We have been anticipating visits from Common Redpolls all winter, but so far they have been frustratingly scarce.  In the last week there have been several reports in Connecticut though.  Redpolls are often late winter arrivals.  They only move as far south as they need to and will happily remain far to the north if there is enough food to sustain them for the winter.  In some winters they will start to exhaust their natural food supplies to the north and head further south in February including visits to our bird feeders.

The Winter Birds Forecast is brought to you by Audubon Connecticut and 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