Making 2018 a big year for birds

The Wilton Conservation Land Trust is hoping 2018 will be a big year for birding right here in town. To that end, it will kick off a Big Year on New Year’s Day, encouraging residents to see and report as many different bird species as possible in Wilton throughout the year.

A big year in birding is an informal competition to see who can identify the largest number of bird species in a calendar year. The North American record for an individual is 780 species, but the land trust’s goal is much more modest.

“We are hoping to see over 200 different species in 2018,” said Tom Burgess, a land trust board member and one of the participants in the event.

“Some of those birds are in Wilton all year long, while others may be here for a season, a day, or for a few seconds as they fly over us. And then there are birds which only come here sporadically, so we just have to hope we see them when they come for a visit.”

Those who would like to participate can get started on Jan. 1, when the land trust sponsors its first bird walk of the year at 8 a.m. at Schenck’s Island in Wilton Center. Others are encouraged to participate by viewing birds on their own outings or simply in their yards. Participation is open to all.

“Our goal is that this will be a community effort, with many people joining in,” said  Donna Merrill, executive director of the land trust. “We will be keeping track of our progress at our Facebook page. People can report what they have seen on Facebook (join the Facebook Group: Wilton Land Trust Bird Year), at our e-mail,, or by phone at 203-451-2516.” The Bulletin will also publish updates periodically.

With changes in climate, birds seen here this time of year may be different from those seen in years past. For example, Burgess said he’s seen a bald eagle here several times this month. There have also been reports of unusual birds — a Smith’s longspur and Harris’s sparrow — at Allen’s Meadow.

Some winter visitors that may be seen on ponds and reservoirs are ducks — American wigeon, gadwall, hooded merganser, ring-necked duck, and bufflehead. Sometimes the arrival of a species depends on its population and food source.

“Last year was a big year for the red-breasted nuthatch,” Burgess said, but this year there have been no reports.

“I doubt we’ll see it in Wilton,” he continued, “but it would be great to see a snowy owl. There have been several spotted in the state close to Stratford.” The Connecticut Audubon Society says this winter may be a big one for the snowy owl. While most are seen near the coast, there have been reports of sightings at inland locations.

These birds of Harry Potter fame prefer a more open habitat than Wilton, which is generally forested, provides — open marshes, dunes, and farmland are typical spots.

However, forest edges “are great places” for spotting other types of birds, said Burgess, who will lead the New Year’s Day walk at Schenck’s Island. Common birds are woodpeckers and sparrows, but a nice sighting would be the tree sparrow, he said, which is here only from September or October until April.

“That would be a nice bird to see. It’s possible, but not guaranteed.”

Those planning to attend the free walk at Schenck’s Island are asked to register at 203-451-2516. Meet at the parking area; binoculars are recommended. The land trust will present periodic walks throughout the year at sites throughout Wilton.

Come spring, migrants passing through could include meadowlarks, Savannah sparrows, brown thrashers, barn swallows, tree swallows, warblers, and purple martins.

Those participating closer to home, unsure of what they are seeing, may consult, managed by Cornell University. There are also many apps that can be downloaded to cell phones.

“The land trust is proud that we have protected over 800 acres here in town,” said land trust president Peter Gaboriault.

“Our founders had the foresight back in 1964 to form the land trust. Thanks to their vision and the generosity of our members, we have been able to save some important fields, forests, and open spaces throughout Wilton. These open spaces protect our quality of life, our drinking water, and provide critical habitat for the animals and plants who live here, too.”