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Richard Soffer’s Sherwood Island Birding Diaries

On the occasion of its opening, Dr. Richard L. Soffer presented a gift to the new Sherwood Island Nature Center: a collection of documents that represent 14 years (1994-2007) of ornithological observations at Sherwood Island State Park. The collection includes daily narrative diaries as well as charts that detail daily sightings and conditions.

Dr. Soffer was a founding member of the Friends of Sherwood Island State Park.

The Friends are proud to present this extraordinary collection here.

Sherwood Island Diaries


In 2002-2003, during the fall and spring migrations, Richard Soffer posted a daily journal in our online register.
Fall 2002Spring 2003
Note: The Nature Center mentioned in the Hand and Soffer reports was torn down in 2003.


In Excel spreadsheets, Dr. Soffer recorded, for each day, sightings (species and number of individuals) and conditions (weather and tidal conditions).
Here they are in zip files for uncompressing on your computer: SightingsConditions


January 22, 1994. They don’t come any worse! An occupational hazard! One must take the bad with the good! Seven days of extraordinary weather … the temperature had dipped to less than 10 degrees almost every day… a major snow and ice storm … Today was the first since the 14th when it was feasible to get safely to the park … I suspected that the birding would be frightful. If there is one variable with predictive value about a day at Sherwood Island, it is the wind, which is always much stronger there than on the mainland. High winds mean a choppy Sound and no birds. So why did I go? Well, if I’m really keeping a diary, I feel obligated to get there at least once a week and just “tell it like it is.” More.

September 16, 2002. As I was beating the bush from east to west at about 9:00 am, a rotund grayish brown bird resembling a button quail in size (between House Sparrow and Starling) and conformation, (stout body, rounded wings, very short tail) flushed about 75 feet in front of me to my right, flew straight and rapidly to my left, and pitched into the grass perhaps 100 feet ahead. It had very conspicuous white secondaries on the trailing edge of the wings and was unmistakable. A Yellow Rail!!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes and I was numb with excitement. Had I imagined it? More.

January 20, 2003. This is definitely an old fashioned winter. … A.J. Hand has seen the Great-horned Owl that we first found on the Christmas Count several times this month as well as a Rough-legged Hawk so I decided to try and find these birds this morning. February 2. My principal reason for going was to search for the owls which I failed yet again to see although A. J. has been seeing both Long-eared and Great-horned quite regularly. I did have a wonderful look at the male Redhead which was in the now fairly substantial open water area near the sluices.

Annotated photos by A.J. Hand