Our next stop was at Hammonasset State Park in Madison, CT. This is one of Connecticut's better birding spots but the birds were kind of quiet on this day. We did have some interesting sightings though. As we came to one marsh across from the nature center, a large brownish bird flew low across the marsh. Vern said that he was pretty certain it was an American Bittern. "We consider that a trashbird where I come from" he said. "Trashbird!" I said. "An American Bittern is a pretty good species to see in Connecticut!" Apparently, bitterns are so common in the marshes in Vern's area that they have to spray the canoes with bittern repellent in order to be able to make their way through the water!
We also saw a few raptors around the park including a Merlin, Cooper's Hawk, and a Northern Harrier. There were also plenty of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets around. Birding on the Willard's Island trail was very slow but we did see a Hermit Thrush on the way out.
We had some interesting sightings over at Meig's Point. Vern Spotted a Ruddy Turnstone out on the rockpile and we had a close view of some Sanderlings along the beach. We saw some loons out in the distance and finally decided that they were Common Loons. We walked along another trail that bordered the shoreline. We saw a dark headed bird that flashed a lot of white when it flew. Upon further investigation, it turned out to be a White-winged Scoter. We walked further along the trail, and saw some more birds off in the distance. I could make out some white on the backs of their heads and wondered if they might be Buffleheads. When we looked at them through the scope, there was no mistaking that they were Surf Scoters. We had a great look at them. Neither of us had seen them from such a close distance before. They have really bold white markings on the front and back of their heads along with a very distinctive bills. Some birders call them Skunk-headed Coots. This was my favorite sighting of the day. What unusual looking birds. I can't remember if there were six or eight of them because I don't have my notes with me here at the library but it was a treat to see them.
We ended our search in the West Beach area of the park. There had been a Nelsons Sharp-tailed Sparrow reported there. We searched the area where it had been reported along a marsh but if it was there, it wasn't cooperating. We saw a few suspect sparrows pop up but after that they stayed deep under cover. One last bonus for Vern was that he saw his first Monk Parakeets in North America. We could see the lime-green birds flying off . They sounded a little bit like terns we thought. We didn't see a lot of species-only about 35 or so but we had fun.
We decided to call it quits and headed over to the nearby Fishtale Restaurant. I had some scallops and Vern had fried clams. It was a nice way to end the morning. Vern continued on to Rhode Island after that as part of his whirlwind New England birding tour. He also planned to go Maine and up to northern Vermont looking for Boreal species. Good luck Vern-It was a pleasure meeting you !
After Vern left, I started thinking about how we had missed out on that Nelson's Sparrow. I decided to go back to the park and search for it one more time. I went back to the same spot and after 10 minutes of searching, there it was! -Nothing! Again! I did see some other birds that had eluded us before though. There were 14 Snow Buntings in a lot that was further back than we had searched previously.
I also saw an Eastern meadowlark which was actually very interesting to me. At first, it stayed in deep grass and all I could see was the back of it. I never had a close-up view of one and all I could remember was the bright yellow belly. I noted a bird with a boldly striped back of the head and long bill that was acting very strangely. When it emerged, I was kind of surprised to see that it was a meadowlark. I was also struck by how conspicuous the white on its tail feathers were. It kept flicking and flashing the white on its tail. It was also larger up close than I would have imagined. The last birds that I saw on the way out were a group of Black-bellied Plovers in a grassy portion of one of the parking lots.