Days of mas­sive mi­gra­tion

The News-Times (Sunday) - - News - ROBERT MILLER Con­tact Robert Miller at earth­mat­ter­

It was gray and chilly at the hawk watch at Light­house Point Park in New Haven. The day be­fore more than 700 hawks had poured across the sky there.

Not so this day.

“It’s slow,” said Bobbi Fisher, a vol­un­teer who was keep­ing tabs on all the birds fly­ing over. “But steady.”

In ones and twos, hawks flew over the open field at the park bor­der­ing New Haven har­bor: kestrels, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks, har­ri­ers and os­prey.

There were also a cou­ple of blue herons fly­ing high over­head, a huge wheel­ing flock of mi­grat­ing blue jays, and a con­stant, flut­ter­ing flow of monarch but­ter­flies.

Down the coast, at the Quaker Ridge hawk watch at the Con­necti­cut Audubon Cen­ter in Greenwich, there had been an equally big, shoulda-been-there day be­fore group, with more than 6,000 hawks — pre­dom­i­nately broad-winged hawks — soar­ing over.

“We saw groups of 900 hawks at a time,” said Ryan Ma­cLean, who is the co­or­di­na­tor of the Quaker Ridge watch.

It is that time of year. The sea­sons are chang­ing and all the birds are leav­ing. Or ar­riv­ing.

Blue jays that spent the sum­mer here move on, re­placed by their iden­ti­cal cousins from the north. Warm-month dou­ble-crested cor­morants are go­ing. Cold­month great cor­morants are ar­riv­ing.

And war­blers that ar­rived in bright col­ors in May are now in olive drab and head­ing south.

“Most peo­ple don’t re­al­ize this,” said Pa­trick Comins, pres­i­dent of the Con­necti­cut Audubon So­ci­ety. “The fall mi­gra­tion is big­ger than the spring mi­gra­tion, both in numbers and the va­ri­ety of birds we see.”

Take for ex­am­ple, the state’s name­sake, the Con­necti­cut war­bler. It’s never seen here in the spring.

But at a bird-net­ting ses­sion this month at Bent of the River Na­ture Cen­ter in South­bury — owned by Audubon Con­necti­cut — the change of sea­sons changed that.

“We had two Con­necti­cut war­blers,” said Ken Elkins, direc­tor of ed­u­ca­tion at Bent of the River.

Elkins said you can hear mi­grat­ing song­birds as they’re pass­ing.

“An hour be­fore day­break, the sky is full of sounds,” he said.

“It’s been hard with so much rain,” said Cathy Ha­gadorn, direc­tor of Con­necti­cut Audubon So­ci­ety’s Deer Pond Farm pre­serve in Sher­man. “But we’re see­ing the usual sus­pects.”

Comins said there are two or three shore­birds that bird­ers see only in the fall in Con­necti­cut — buff-breasted and Baird’s sand­pipers, long-billed dow­itch­ers.

Along with the res­i­dent golf-course graz­ing Canada geese, there are the beau­ti­ful Vs of mi­grat­ing Canada geese com­ing down from, one would guess, Canada. Mixed in with them, now and then, are stand­outs — cack­ling geese, pink-footed geese, snow geese, Ross’s geese.

And there are hawks, by the tens of thou­sands.

There are about a half­dozen hawk watches in the state that feed their data into the North­east Hawk Watch and the Hawk Mi­gra­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of North Amer­ica.

Col­lec­tively, they’re keep­ing records of this river of birds pass­ing over.

Re­nee Baade of New­town main­tains a watch on Bots­ford Hill, on the RoxburyBridge­wa­ter line.

On the day the 6,000 birds flew over Greenwich, she counted about 800.

“It was per­fect con­di­tions,” she said.

Broad-winged hawks mi­grate in­land, con­gre­gat­ing in the south­west corner of the state — hence the huge numbers that can flock over Quaker Ridge in Greenwich.

Other species head down along the coast­line. They’re the ones that peo­ple will see at Light­house Point in New Haven.

Steve Mayo, co­or­di­na­tor of the Light­house Point watch, said it’s the op­ti­mum place in New Eng­land to see hawks in mi­gra­tion. Birds com­ing down the coast will pause there be­fore cross­ing New Haven har­bor, then make the leap.

“Other places may get higher numbers, but in terms of va­ri­ety of species, we’re the best,” he said.

Mi­grat­ing shore­birds fly over Light­house Point as well. Blue jays and cedar waxwings gather in big flocks there. Fall war­blers stop in the woods that sur­round the hawk watch field.

“That’s the nice thing about here,” Mayo said. “Even if you’re not count­ing, you can see good birds.”

And pere­gri­nat­ing bird­ers — some real ex­perts — stop in as well. When a sin­gle shore­bird flies across the gray skies, they can nail the ID — a greater yel­lowlegs.

“I think of this place as a won­der­ful sem­i­nar on bird­ing,” Fisher said.

Baade, of New­town, said she’s al­ways try­ing to get peo­ple to look up and see this world of birds in the fall sky.

“Un­til I point it out, they never know what’s over their head,” she said. “Never.”

Con­trib­uted photo

An Amer­i­can kestrel

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