Monday, October 3, 2011

Too late, too late. Wasted. Squandered. Gone.

One of my favorite birding spots is scheduled for destruction. My efforts to stop my town’s decision to allow construction of a multi-town, live fire training facility on a grassland parcel were in vain. I sent a letter and a comprehensive list of birds I’ve seen there to our town planning and zoning committee in lieu of my attending their meeting (I had a schedule conflict). I doubt that they read what I sent, or if they did, I doubt it meant anything to them. I’ve posted most of it below, just for posterity and in an effort to articulate my rage and sorrow.

My heart is broken over this and over every piece of habitat that is needlessly, permanently destroyed. I understand the need for fire training facilities, but I find it impossible that this special area was the only place they could find for its construction. Yes, I’ll miss the peace, quiet, beauty, and natural abundance of this place more than I can say, but I grieve more for the birds and other animals who will no longer have a place to breed, to winter, to stop to rest on their migrations.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the wildflowers, have I? Or the snakes and turtles? Or the butterflies? Or the cleansing properties of all that greenery and water?

Too late, too late. Wasted. Squandered. Gone.


Except for the occasional beneficial mowing, this 11-acre parcel of meadowland tucked into the corner of a large agricultural area has remained undisturbed for several years. As a result, it hosts a rich variety of wildlife, including many birds. I have recorded 155 species of birds in the general area, and 108 species in the parcel that is slated for destruction. Of the 108, about a quarter are rare, threatened, or endangered.

For several years, I have visited this meadow area several times each week, in all seasons of the year, primarily to study the large variety of birds there, but also to enjoy the quiet, clean, undeveloped and unpopulated space that we are so fortunate to have right in the center of our town. I also bird regularly at other spots in and around our region. As a result, I have developed a good sense of the overall populations, movements, habitats, and habits of birds in our area, and I can state with confidence that this parcel is a critical component of the avian habitat of the region, particularly for grassland birds.

Because I visit this area frequently in every season, and because I sometimes spend two or three hours on each visit simply observing the birds that breed, migrate, and feed in the area, I have learned much about which birds use the meadow area, and how they use it. I can state with confidence that construction or disturbance in the area could cause permanent damage to the status in our town of several threatened bird species, particularly Bobolink, Northern Harrier, and American Kestrel.

To the casual eye, the parcel of land seems like waste land, with brush and “weeds” and, in recent weeks, the muddy remains of Tropical Storm Irene. But that little corner is rich with birds, and with other animals, too. I’ve seen coyote, fox, and deer there, of course, and the high numbers of hawks and falcons attest to the healthy population of smaller vertebrates which make up their prey. Two days after Tropical Storm Irene hit in August, I watched about 1000 Chimney Swifts and about 500 Tree Swallows – the largest such flock I had ever seen – feeding on flying insects directly above this parcel. It was an astounding sight, made possible by the fact that the land there has been undisturbed and is rich in invertebrates, such as the flying insects on which these birds feed exclusively. 

During all times of year, birds move about this area constantly in search of food, traveling from the nearby river to the meadow, and from field to field within the meadowlands, depending on the abundance of food. Many ducks and waterfowl, including herons, sandpipers, and the like, will forage and rest in the meadowlands, where they find most of their food, especially during and after the floods which frequently enrich these low-lying lands.

Many hawks, owls and other predators depend on open grassland for food, and I’ve seen many of them here, including all three of the falcons that may be seen in our area (Peregrine, Merlin, Kestrel), Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawks, Bald Eagle, and the grassland specialist, the Northern Harrier. Last October, I was stunned to see a Golden Eagle hunting over this parcel; it had stopped here to rest and feed on its long migration from the north.

An abundance of finches, including many northern sparrow species which do not breed in Connecticut, may be seen in the meadow areas during the winter. During the winter of 2010-2011, I observed several northern rarities in the Round Hill portion of the Meadow, including Short-eared Owl, Rough-legged Hawk, White-crowned Sparrow, Pine Siskin, and Lincoln’s Sparrow. These birds are rare enough that when I report these sightings to the Connecticut Ornithological Association, they disseminate them to the rest of the state on their daily report.

As you may see from the list appended below:

• I have recorded sightings of 155 species of birds in this town meadowlands. Many of these birds are considered uncommon, rare, or endangered. All but a few introduced species are protected under federal law.
• I have seen 108 species of birds in the area that will now be destroyed in order that a fire training facility may be built.
• Of the 108 bird species that I have observed in the area which is going to be destroyed, 25 are considered uncommon, rare, or endangered. Several of these depend on undisturbed grassland for survival.

It’s easy to destroy habitat, but it’s impossible to replace it once it’s gone. Grassland habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate all over the country, causing steep declines in avian and other species that rely on grassland for breeding and migration.

Our open space is precious. Our quiet areas are few. We have a choice about how to care for this lovely land that lies within our stewardship and that provides a quiet, clean, nature-rich oasis in our busy town center. I begged the commission: "Please choose to preserve this open space and to leave it undisturbed and untrammeled." They chose development.

I invited them to read my observations on birds in these meadow areas:

The variety of sparrow species in the meadow, in and around the parcel that was lost:

Pipits, rare visitors from the tundra, stop in the meadow, adjacent to the parcel that was lost:

The bounty of birds in the meadow in the center of town, the parcel that was lost:

Migration of Northern Harrier from the meadow, the parcel that was lost:

Hunting habits of Northern Harrier in the meadows:

Too late, too late. Gone, gone. Gone.


Birds seen in my favorite “patch”— which will cease to exist when the bulldozers arrive.

An asterisk * denotes an uncommon, rare, or threatened bird.

1. *Greater White-fronted Goose
2. *Snow Goose
3. *Cackling Goose
4. Canada Goose
5. Wood Duck
6. Gadwall
7. American Wigeon
8. American Black Duck
9. Mallard
10. *Blue-winged Teal
11. *Northern Shoveler
12. *Northern Pintail
13. Green-winged Teal
14. *Harlequin Duck [almost unheard of inland in winter; my report of this bird here in January 2010 attracted birders from several states to town]
15. Hooded Merganser
16. Common Merganser
17. *Red-breasted Merganser
18. Ring-necked Pheasant
19. Wild Turkey
20. Double-crested Cormorant
21. Great Blue Heron
22. Great Egret
23. Green Heron
24. Black-crowned Night-heron
25. *Black Vulture
26. Turkey Vulture
27. Osprey
28. *Bald Eagle
29. *Northern Harrier
30. Sharp-shinned Hawk
31. Cooper’s Hawk
32. *Northern Goshawk
33. Red-shouldered Hawk
34. Broad-winged Hawk
35. Red-tailed Hawk
36. *Rough-legged Hawk
37. *Golden Eagle
38. *American Kestrel
39. Merlin
40. *Peregrine Falcon
41. Black-bellied Plover
42. *American Golden-plover
43. Semipalmated Plover
44. Killdeer
45. Spotted Sandpiper
46. Solitary Sandpiper
47. Greater Yellowlegs
48. Lesser Yellowlegs
49. Semipalmated Sandpiper
50. Least Sandpiper
51. *Baird’s Sandpiper
52. *Pectoral Sandpiper
53. *Buff-breasted Sandpiper
54. Wilson’s Snipe
55. American Woodcock
56. Ring-billed Gull
57. Herring Gull
58. Great Black-backed Gull
59. Rock Pigeon
60. Mourning Dove
61. *Short-eared Owl
62. Common Nighthawk
63. Chimney Swift
64. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
65. Belted Kingfisher
66. Red-bellied Woodpecker
67. *Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
68. Downy Woodpecker
69. Hairy Woodpecker
70. Northern Flicker
71. Pileated Woodpecker
72. Eastern Wood-Pewee
73. Willow Flycatcher
74. Least Flycatcher
75. Eastern Phoebe
76. Great Crested Flycatcher
77. Eastern Kingbird
78. Blue-headed Vireo
79. Warbling Vireo
80. Red-eyed Vireo
81. Blue Jay
82. American Crow
83. Fish Crow
84. *Common Raven
85. Tree Swallow
86. N. Rough-winged Swallow
87. Bank Swallow
88. *Cliff Swallow
89. Barn Swallow
90. Black-capped Chickadee
91. Tufted titmouse
92. *Red-breasted Nuthatch
93. White-breasted Nuthatch
94. *Brown Creeper
95. Carolina Wren
96. House Wren
97. Golden-crowned Kinglet
98. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
99. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
100. Eastern Bluebird
101. Veery
102. Wood Thrush
103. American Robin
104. Gray Catbird
105. Northern Mockingbird
106. *Brown Thrasher
107. European Starling
108. American Pipit
109. Cedar Waxwing
110. Blue-winged Warbler
111. Northern Parula
112. Yellow Warbler
113. Chestnut-sided Warbler
114. Magnolia Warbler
115. Black-throated Blue Warbler
116. Yellow-rumped Warbler
117. Pine Warbler
118. Palm Warbler
119. Blackpoll Warbler
120. Black-and-white Warbler
121. American Redstart
122. Ovenbird
123. Common Yellowthroat
124. Scarlet Tanager
125. Eastern Towhee
126. American Tree Sparrow
127. Chipping Sparrow
128. Field Sparrow
129. *Vesper Sparrow
130. Savannah Sparrow
131. *Grasshopper Sparrow
132. *Fox Sparrow
133. Song Sparrow
134. *Lincoln’s Sparrow
135. Swamp Sparrow
136. White-throated Sparrow
137. *White-crowned Sparrow
138. Dark-Eyed Junco
139. Northern Cardinal
140. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
141. Indigo Bunting
142. *Dickcissel
143. *Bobolink
144. Red-winged Blackbird
145. *Eastern Meadowlark
146. *Rusty Blackbird
147. Common Grackle
148. Brown-headed Cowbird
149. *Orchard Oriole
150. Baltimore Oriole
151. *Purple Finch
152. House Finch
153. *Pine Siskin
154. American Goldfinch
155. House Sparrow

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