May 18, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Wednesday, 26 November 2008 11:11
At least two Snowy Owls have been hanging around the Fairfield County coastline for the past month or so. John McGinley of Wilton got the accompanying shot at Sherwood Island State Park on Nov. 9. The same day, one was reported a few miles to the west at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk. Perhaps they were the same bird. Sightings are also being reported in Orange and Stratford, and experts believe there are at least two being seen on the Connecticut coast.
Early in the month, observations and photographs of the Snowy Owl in Norwalk showed a wire, probably an antenna from a tracking device, trailing from the bird, said the Connecticut Bird Digest, a daily report on activity in the state. “Apparently this was not seen [later] by any of the various observers. The obvious choices are that whatever it was, fell off, or that [the later] Snowy Owl is a different bird.”
Scores of bird-watchers headed to various points in Norwalk, Westport and Stratford to see the owls, which normally hang out in northern Canada. Probably because of their large size and ghostly appearance, Snowy Owls are one of the most famous of our “irruptive species.”
Several phenomena besides migration may bring strange birds to our area. Variations in food and population supplies can cause irruptions — not eruptions! — of certain birds, particularly those whose normal territory is boreal.
For instance, both crossbills and redpolls, finches that inhabit the Canadian forests, may descend into the States in great numbers during some winters. These irruptions are related not only to the food supply but the number of birds. Some years, the supplies of pine cones and their seeds are rich, causing the finches to increase in number. Then hard times hit and not enough food is available to supply the birds, forcing them to look elsewhere.
Among the kinds of birds that may appear in irruptions are northern species of nutcrackers, jays, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, finches, and hawks. When winter ends they head back home.
In winters when the lemming population declines in Canada, Snowy Owls may appear in many northern states. This year they are being seen throughout coastal New England and in the Chicago area. An underweight, lice-infested Snowy Owl was found in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on Nov. 6. It died the next day.
Airports like Logan in Boston often attract Snowy Owls because they offer great expanses of flat, treeless land, which these birds favor for hunting. Since we don’t have lemmings, the owls settle for local small mammals and even fish and shorebirds. Most of the sightings around here are on the coast because that’s the only territory that offers open expanses. Years ago, Snowy Owls used to be seen inland, such as in Ridgefield, before subdivisions and second growth forests filled in all the open farmland.
Once, about a dozen years ago in the city of Stamford, a Snowy Owl was discovered perched atop a streetlight in a downtown section. The discoverer was a child, who had never seen such a bird before and who reported to police that he saw a “chicken” on the streetlight.
Speaking of unusual birds showing up, a recent column mentioned how western hummingbirds occasionally appear in the East, especially in the fall. Well, here it is late November, and a Calliope Hummingbird has been frequenting a feeder in Simsbury since mid-October.
“This information only came to light on Tuesday night and the identity of the hummer was unknown until yesterday (Nov. 19),” reports Jay Kaplan, director of the Roaring Brook Nature Center in Canton, part of the Connecticut Children’s Museum. “This is a second record for Connecticut and the homeowner has graciously given permission for birders to come see the bird.
Mr. Kaplan adds, “The bird does not seem to mind people on the deck as it has been coming since mid-October often with numerous people eating and talking on the deck within a few feet of the feeder.”
The Calliope is our smallest bird, weighing a mere tenth of an ounce (0.01 ounce less than our Ruby-throated). The Calliope, which summers in the Pacific Northwest, ought to be in the tropics by now, but somehow got off track in its migration, going east instead of south. It’s not part of an irruption — it’s just a mistake.
Little-Known Owls, with Trudy Battaly and Drew Panko on saw-whet owls, Friday, Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m., $5, Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Route 117 between Pleasantville and Sleepy Hollow, reservations required, 914-631-1470 ext 0.
Christmas Bird Count, Stamford/Greenwich, Sunday, Dec. 14, starting at midnight, Audubon Greenwich, 203-869-5272 x230, Greenwich.audubon.org.
Coastal Holiday Birding, along the shore from Old Lyme to Groton, Wednesday, Dec. 17, noon to evening, with dinner at inn, $40/$45, Connecticut Audubon, 800-996-8747.
Christmas Bird Count, Peekskill circle, Saturday, Dec. 20, Bedford Audubon, bedfordaudubon.org, 914-232-1999.
Bird walks with Luke Tiller, mostly Saturdays at 8 a.m., $10 each; to register, www. sunrisebirding. com/ walks.htm; 203-981-9924, luke.tiller @ gmail.com.
First Sundays, birding at Greenwich Point with Meredith Sampson of Wild Wings, and other guides, Dec. 7, Jan. 4, Feb. 1, March 1, April 5, May 3, meet at the second concession stand, 203-637-9822.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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