Birding excursions abound

It can take extra motivation to engage in outdoor activities when it is cold, but committing yourself to an organized group birding activity can give you that extra incentive to get out. Fortunately, there are several great birding excursions scheduled for January and February.

Southeastern Connecticut offers some of the best eagle watching in all of the Northeast. Every winter, dozens of bald eagles fly down from Canada to the mouth of the Connecticut River in search of ice-free water. The eagles put on quite the show, as they swoop in over the frigid water and grasp fish in their powerful talons. At other times, birders will spot them perched in trees or stealing food from careless gulls. There have been as many as 50 eagles reported in years past.

The Audubon Shop, located in Madison, is offering three eagle watching expeditions. They are scheduled as follows: Feb. 9, 16, and 23. They all begin at 8 a.m. and end at 1 p.m. There is a fee of $25, which includes lunch at Otter Cove Restaurant in Old Saybrook. You can call the Audubon Shop at (203) 245-9056 for more specific information. Be sure to inquire about other birding adventures, such as their Saturday morning bird walks at Hammonasset.

Although Hammonasset is our premier local birding site, Cape Ann and Newburyport, in nearby Massachusetts, provide a better opportunity to see northern seabirds. These two sites are excellent for winter birding and are known nationally for their high probability of waterfowl, alcids, and gulls. Birders come from all over to find Cape Ann’s razorbills, guillemots, and Atlantic puffins. On an average day of birding, you can often see 15 species of ducks and geese. The beautiful king eider and the colorful harlequin duck are two commonly seen species. Lucky birders have a chance at sighting rare gulls such as black-headed and ivory gulls, but Iceland and glaucous gulls are more likely.

There are numerous points, inlets, and observation sites throughout Cape Ann, and it can be a little confusing as to exactly where the best viewing is without some preliminary homework. Luckily, the Hartford Audubon has a trip planned for Jan. 19-20, and all are welcome to sign up info@hartfordaudubon.org.

For those wanting to venture out on their own, I recommend going to the Rockport Headlands (all part of Cape Ann) to visit Andrews Point and Halibut Point, where you may be rewarded with pelagic specialties such as shearwaters, storm-petrels, gannets, kittiwakes, jaegers, and dovekies. The granite quarry is a good vantage point where you can set up a scope (see local maps). The best time to look, with the exception of certain storms, is early morning after a night of onshore winds. Nearby Newburyport and Plum Island (Parker River National Wildlife Refuge), to the north of Cape Ann, are easier to navigate on your own.

If you prefer not to travel far, check out Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island with the New Haven Bird Club. They are planning a trip for Feb. 23, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Expect an exciting tour of Beavertail State Park, Moonstone Beach, Trustum Pond, and a few other great sites. Birders may see rough-legged hawks, king eiders, scoters, harlequin, and other sea ducks.

So don’t let the cold weather keep you from seeing these coastal birds. We are fortunate to have so many great birding sites and organizations nearby. Now is the time to sign up for an adventure and enjoy the invigoration of winter birding.

Robert Tougias is a Colchester-based birder. You can ask him questions at rtougias@snet.net.

 

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