On Monday, August 29th off the Compo Beach area my Dad and I found a Bridled Tern in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
This is a very notable storm-bird, only the second Irene record in CT (I believe). The ID was a tricky one, partly because of my lack of experience with Sooty/Bridled terns, and the fact it was pretty far away. The sighting happened as follows-
Due to the limited parking my dad dropped me off at the grassy patch of shoreline overlook by Compo Beach, which provided great looks at the waters off Compo and Sherwood Island SP, which remains closed due to flooding. As soon as I began scanning the waters with the scope, I picked up a line of debris, mainly seaweed and driftwood floating out off Sherwood Island. Knowing that Bridled was a possibility and that this was their preferred hangout, I commenced a thorough scan of the flotsam. Almost instantly I picked out a tern perched on a small floating log. And it did not have a light back. On the contrary, it’s mantle color was dark gray with a slight hint of brown. But that was about all I could see besides the fact it had white foreparts. My pulse quickened, knowing this was a strong candidate for Bridled.
I waited for my dad to come back from parking the car, then explained the situation. Dad then took the scope and we waited for more clues. The first step for the ID was to eliminate to the two other candidates, Sooty and Black Tern. The back color was too light for Sooty but because of the strong sunlight, we felt there could be some light/shadow patterns playing tricks on our eyes. The fact that the bird was sitting on flotsam was an important clue, because it is well known that is a behavior Sooty Terns almost never portray. Finally we got what we needed when the bird flew, showing long slender wings with white underside coverts, and a longish tail. The long, slender wings eliminated Black Tern for good, and as it gave better views of its mantle and the upper parts of its wings, it was obviously a dark gray and not black, eliminating Sooty. After flying southwest and dissapearing, we waited for a few minutes before the bird flew back and landed on flotsam again. At this point I had already alerted fellow young birders James Purcell and Alex Burdo by phone and text, and James sent the word out online for me. Dad and I had to leave for a commitment but were hoping someone could come and find the bird again. When we left the bird had drifted to the west and farther out to the Sound. It would probably have been a great view from Sherwood. I did take a couple photos, but they are so crummy that posting them would almost be a crime, you can’t even see the bird.
The bird, unfortunately has not been relocated, not a good thing for a rarity, but because it’s a storm-blown seabird, it’s bound to move. Just keep your eyes out on the coastline.
Other 8/29 highlights-
Compo Road- Merlin
Sasco Creek Beach, Southport- Jaeger sp.
Sherwood Island Mill Pond- Black Tern
Additionally, on Sunday 8/28, right after the storm, 1 confirmed Baird’s Sandpiper was present at Veterans Park in Norwalk. A few shorebirds were likely Baird’s, but never confirmed.
A few Pectoral Sandpipers were also present, along with dozens of “peeps” and at least a hundred Laughing Gulls.
And at Calf Pasture Beach, Norwalk, (an island at the time we were there) there were 2 Forster’s Terns and 1 Caspian Tern.
Good Hurricane Birding!