For my final birding trip in New England this past weekend, I drove over to the New Haven area to explore the birdiest locale in the region: Hammonasset Beach. I joined up with the Audubon Shop of Madison, CT, and enjoyed excellent autumn conditions with some seriously experienced birders.
We kicked things off with some beach birding and quickly spotted both Common and Red-throated Loons. A couple of Dunlins flew nearby, with a Northern Gannet not far behind. Within 10 minutes, I'd picked up 4 life birds!
We moved on to a lookout on the east side of the park, managing to spot a couple of Greater Yellowlegs in a pool of water near the parking lot. At the top of the lookout, we put the scope on a solitary Purple Sandpiper standing on a rock, seemingly wholly uninterested in testing the frigid waters. Two more tics on the life bird list!
Moving northward to a walking path leading to a boardwalk, we spotted two Buffleheads gliding slowly through the reeds. They were nice enough to do a couple of loops, so we had extended and crystal clear looks. One more life bird!
But that wasn't all. Not by a long shot. When we reached the end of the boardwalk and began tallying the list for the day's walk, the leader commented that we just needed one more species to reach 40. Almost instantaneously, one of the group members squawked, "Long-eared Owl!" Immediately, frenzy took hold of the group, folks scrambling for scopes and cameras, with nearly half the group of 20 announcing, "life bird!"
The owl was in clear view, albeit a long way (200 meters) from the boardwalk. But despite the unobstructed views, consensus was tough to reach, and after 20 full minutes of wavering, negotiating, pleading, praying, and bargaining, we decided the owl was in fact a Short-eared Owl. A magnificent bird nevertheless, and certainly quite rare in that area, but a Long-eared it was not.
For me, though, it was life bird #8 on the day. A terrific result for a terrifically beautiful beach. And I'll always remember that boardwalk and that owl. Always.