A Special Holiday Gift for Birders in Southern New England

While many are busy preparing for the holidays and listening to snow reports, a unique group is excited about reports of rare bird sightings in their state.

This special group, known as birders, come in many sizes, ages and backgrounds. And when the birders’ hotline roars, they come in flocks equipped with binoculars, scopes, cameras and camcorders.

Bird watchers-Hadlyme, CT, Dec2013

Bird Watchers at Chester/Hadlyme Ferry Parking lot get a glimpse of a rare Fork-tailed Flycatcher
December 2013 ~ Photo by Jen Ensign

How does the word get out? After the first sighting and identification, the breaking news these days flies over the birders’ hotline by  e-mail and social media.

For example, in late November a bird similar to an Eastern Kingbird was sighted by chance at the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry parking lot by the Connecticut River below Gillette’s Castle in Hadlyme, Connecticut. Kayaker and experienced birder Jeff Feldmann was preparing to leave the lot and photographed a curious looking bird which was identified by his friend Mona Cavallero from the Hartford Audubon Society as a Fork-tailed Flycatcher (video).

This little bird with the longest tail of any bird on earth happily frolics in the warmth of Mexico year round and is known to wander during migration mostly to the Eastern United States and Canada. That’s over 2,000 miles in the opposite direction, which is quite a stretch.

Video - Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Rare sighting of a South American Fork-Tailed Flycatcher
in Connecticut ~ watch video for more information.

This definitely saves birders time and money when birds from far away lands come for a visit.

The Fork-tailed Flycatcher, was also sighted in Stamford, Connecticut. Not only did Connecticut birders flock to the sighting spots, but birders from New York made the trip.

Bird Sound - Fork-Tailed Flycatcher

Bird Sound

Infographic ~ Fork-Tail Flycatcher by Karen LeBoulluec

Infographic ~ Fork-Tail Flycatcher by Karen LeBoulluec

And, perhaps you are wondering to what extent professional birders go to get a glimpse of something as small as a baseball. A great way to learn about this is to watch the movie “The Big Year“. A star packed comedy about the dedication and persistence of birders during “The Big Year” annual competition.

Legendary birder Sandy Komito holds the record for most birds seen and heard  in one year and he is still at it. This year he traveled to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico to see a rare Rufous-necked Wood-rail for only the second time in his 73 years of birdwatching.

“There seems to be a great deal of delight in seeing something and then trying to figure out what it is you’ve discovered,” Komito said in a telephone interview with Huffington Post. “In a sense, when you’re going for rare birds it’s almost like panning for gold and the bird represents a nugget.”

Snowy owls are another rare treat in Southern New England and sightings have increased this year in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York City. Native of Canada and the official bird of Quebec, the snowy oil has traveled as far south as North Carolina this year.

Snowy Owl Sightings - Nov-Dec2013

Snowy Owl Range Map from Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History ~ November – December 2013

Why has there been an increase? The Director of Bird Conservation for Connecticut at National Audubon Society, Patrick Comins, told Colin McEnroe on NPR radio there could be several reasons. One being a successful nesting season and change in lemming cycles, so there is a decline in prey.

Birders are delighted to have these rare opportunities to see snowy owls, however the snowy owls have also brought issues since they seek habitats that mimic the Arctic tundra like airports. New York City’s airports began shooting the owls because  they pose a threat to air travel safety. Boston’s Logan Airport has had similar problems with the snowy owls and created a way to trap and relocate them.

These rare birds seem to visit for a week or more, so prepare yourself to get out for a glimpse of unusual birds in your area.