Monday, July 9, 2012

Gulls on The Prowl, Ospreys at Rest: A Snapshot of Bird Life Along the Connecticut Shore

I recently had the chance to spend a little time watching birds along the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound. The weather was fairly hot and humid, and so not overly conducive to standing out in the sun for long stretches of time, but I still managed to see many birds in at least three different kinds of habitat: beach, suburban lawns/patches of forest, and salt marsh. In and around houses, yards and narrow roads I encountered many of the usual summer New England birds: American Robbin, Song Sparrow, House Finch, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal and Common Grackle. But it was in an around a large salt marsh that I saw some of the more exciting birds, including various Swallows, Terns (not sure which species, they were far out and I don't have a lot of experience with these birds) and Red-winged Blackbirds.

A male Red-winged Blackbird perches on telephone wires beside a salt marsh in Connecticut.
Salt Marshes play a vital role in the health and well-being of the overall marine ecosystem, and provide crucial habitat for a wide variety of animals.
One of the coolest things I saw while birding near the salt marsh was an Osprey nesting platform which was clearly being used by these amazing birds. Each time we drove by this part of the marsh I looked out the car window and invariably saw 2 or 3 of them perched on the platform or an adjacent pole which was sticking up out of the water. I was also lucky enough to see a number of Osprey pass overhead along the beach and late one afternoon I saw one fly past clutching a fish in its talons. It's great that people in Connecticut have taken the initiative to help support this important marine predator. Ospreys are defintiely one of my favorite raptors and one of the most enjoyable birds to watch in and around the shoreline. When I was in graduate school I was lucky enough to have nature writer David Gessner, author of Return of the Osprey  as the instructor for an environmental writing course I took, and since then I have been fascinated by these aerial acrobats.

There are a number of great resources online if you'd like to learn more about Ospreys, including this website, maintained by the Connecticut Audubon Society and this website maintained by the group Long Island Sound Study offers some more technical data on the natural history and overall health of the Osprey population in Long Island Sound over the last 60 years.

While the salt marsh was full of bird song and offered a cool expanse of bright green grass and rich black mud, not very far away I was also lucky enough to have the chance to wander along a sandy beach, to see which birds might be feeding in the surf and along the shoreline.I saw a number of terns feeding and flying by, including one which was rousted from its perch by a large Greater Black-backed Gull. In fact, it was another Great Black-backed Gull which gave me some of my better photos for the day, as I watched it attempt to pull apart and eat a fish it had found. I couldn't tell what kind of fish it was - if anyone has suggestions from the photos below I would love to hear them.

A Great Black-backed Gull tries to pull apart a dead fish on the beach.

The same bird as in the photo above takes the dead fish with it out in the water.

I watched this gull for quite a while as it first tried to pull the dead fish apart on the beach and then took to the air with it in its bills, before landing about 20 feet from shore where it resumed its efforts. At one point it even seemed to be trying to make use of friction, as it grabbed one small corner of the fish in its bill and then tried to life up and back, flapping its wings hard and tugging on the fish. In the end it managed to get at least one bite-sized piece down. Double-Crested Cormorants were also a constant by the water, flying back and forth along the beach and landing occasionally to fish in the surf.

Double-Crested Cormorants are a fairly common sight along the New England coastline in summer.

Throughout my time at the shore I had many chances to look out at the water and marvel at the beauty of Long Island Sound, feasting on the sights, sounds and smells of the Atlantic, from the graceful flight of terns and Osprey to the steady, gentle rhythm of the waves. I look forward to returning and seeing more of this amazing place.

Thanks for reading.

All is quiet as evening falls on Long Island Sound.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

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