by Paul Fusco
Many different types of birds can be found in wetlands, but the ones that we refer to as wetland birds generally fall into the heron and rail families. Virtually all of them spend the winter well-south of Connecticut since they don't have any easy time dealing with ice-covered marshes, swamps, ponds, and lakes. Great Blue Herons are an exception, as many of them have found they can get plenty of fish to eat along rivers and Long Island Sound. They can often be found downstream from hydroelectric dams like Shepaug and Stevenson because the water usually remains open all winter. Their closer proximity to Litchfield and Morris throughout the winter means that Great Blue Herons are the first wetland birds to arrive back here in the spring. In most years their arrival starts around the first of March, but this year we didn't see the first ones until March 15. That had to be due to ice conditions and the awful weather of the previous 4 months. With winter loosening its grip and ice finally melting over the course of the rest of the month more Great Blues appeared. Most of the sightings were initially around Bantam Lake, but they soon expanded to include the Bantam River. The first Great Blues appeared at Little Pond on 3/31 of this year. They are now being seen almost daily at Bantam Lake or somewhere on White Memorial property. A few of the birds at the North Shore Marsh are exhibiting territorial behavior, so they might nest there again this year, as they have for the past 2 years. Unlike many of their kind which choose nesting sites high in dead trees in marshes, our Great Blues seem to prefer to nest low in clumps of live Red Maple trees. That makes them really hard to see, despite their large size. Even harder to see are American Bitterns, Virginia Rails, and Soras; all of which have arrived back at White Memorial this month. Our first (and only so far this year) American Bittern was seen in the N. Shore Marsh adjacent to the Litchfield Town Beach on the 7th. Our first Virginia Rail of 2011 appeared at Little Pond on April 8th. In some past years we have seen our first one as early as March 18th. In the past few days as many as 5 Virginia Rails have been seen or heard there, despite flooded conditions. I had 5 (probably different ones) at Hamill Marsh this past Saturday, 4/23, along with our first Sora of the year. This is the earliest date of spring arrival at White Memorial that I can ever recall. Last year, we saw our first one 4/30. The Virginia Rails will stay here to breed as long as the flooding subsides. They nest low in cattails, so they are very vulnerable to flooding. For the past several years one or two pairs of Soras have exhibited some breeding evidence at Little and/or Cemetery Ponds. About 4 years ago we saw newly fledged young at Cemetery Pond. From 5/1 through 8/31 we try to survey for wetland birds in our marshes. We focus most of our efforts on Little Pond, but we should try to get to all of our marshes over the course of the breeding season. To that end, our readership can help by reporting any wetland birds that they encounter on White Memorial property. I usually go out in the evening to survey for these birds, and I welcome help.