Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cold Weather Car Brrrrrrding!

I generally tolerate cold weather fairly well but I was not ready for the sudden shock of temperatures in the 20's when I first walked out the door on Saturday. A persistent breeze made it even colder. I consulted with my car and we made an executive decision that it was going to be a birding-by-car-only day.

We started out at the Durham Meadows near the fairgrounds. I believe the area is called White Farm. There is a long line of dead tree snags that you can pull your car up to in case a bird lands to perch on one of them.
It seemed like a good idea but the only birds that landed on them were starlings. They may not win and popularity contests but they are sort of pretty this time of year. The white spots on their breast are a forecast that snow will soon be on its way.
 I caught a few waxwings chomping on some berries. they say that these birds sometimes become intoxicated by some of the berries they eat.
 I've found that it has been a good year for kestrels in the local fields that I visit. This one was high up in a giant evergreen near the Durham fairgrounds entrance.
I stopped by a skating pond along route 68 which is off of 16 in Durham. At first, it looked like nothing was around but then I noticed several American Pipits working their way across the pond picking out bits of food from the weedy debris sticking up through the ice.
There are a whole circuit of ponds off of route 68 between Durham,Wallingford, and Meriden. Besides the American Wigeon in the photo I found Buffleheads, American Coot, Hooded Mergansers, Green-winged Teal and lots of other good stuff.

 I probably would have seen more if I had put more effort in getting out of the car but there are several advantages of birding from your car such as: 

  • you can stay warm
  • you can listen to sports, NPR, or music on the radio
  •  it's a good location from which to drink your coffee
  •  your car makes an excellent blind so that you don't scare off good birds and makes it easier to take pictures of them
  • you can cover a lot of ground by driving directly to some hot spots without spending a lot of time walking around
Of course, I'm not going to stay in my car all winter. It's not as good as being out in the field enjoying the great outdoors but birding by car can be a good option when you're dealing with wicked windy winter weather.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Can You Recall Individual Bird Sightings?

I was standing at a field near the Portland fairgrounds when I heard a shotgun blast nearby. I was thinking about how I had carelessly forgotten to bring my orange vest with me. Seconds later, a fairly large bird glided into the tall grass in the field just in front of me. Something about the way the bird came in for a landing struck me as different. When it emerged from the tall grass I recognized it as a meadowlark. At first I saw it from the back, flicking its tail and showing off white outer tail feathers. Eventually it turned to face me and showed off its bright yellow breast. It was a memorable moment for me because I've only seen half a dozen meadowlarks since I started birding and it was in my hometown.

 It got me to thinking-I wonder how many individual birds I've seen over the years I can remember? What kind of details surrounding those sightings can I recall? It's easy to remember details of rarer birds I've seen or chased after but what about some random House Sparrow I saw 5 years ago? Probably not so much.
 I believe taking photos of a bird helps imprint memories into our mind. I was parked next to a pond in the middle of a roadway leading to Meig's Point at Hammonasset when I took this photo. I remembered reading that Greater yellowlegs have a slightly upturned bill noticeably longer than their head. It was also darting quickly through the water chasing after food, which is another habit of theirs. 
 I saw this Scarlet Tanager one early summer morning. I was excited that it landed in a branch just above my head but disappointed that there wasn't much light. I wouldn't be able to take a picture that could match what I had seen with my own eyes.
 I was zipping along a back road when I saw a large form out of the corner of my eye. I shifted into reverse with my emergency flashers on and pulled up close to the woods to get a photo. My car was facing oncoming traffic. Birders are not the greatest drivers when they're in birder mode. I got out of the car and the hawk still didn't move! I took a dozen pictures of it but never could get the right lighting.
Lyman's orchards was swarming with crows on this day and I'll bet I was the subject of their conversation when I showed up to spoil their party.Their weren't many ducks in the pond that day but the cider was pretty good.

It may seem routine at times as we wander about searching for birds to identify but there's great deal of concentration involved with birding. I'll bet there is a lot more information about bird sightings in our memory banks than we are consciously aware of. I forget where I put my car keys but I can remember a brilliant red male cardinal perched in the middle of a snow-covered bush during a Christmas count from 5 years ago. I remember exactly where I was standing on a path along the Connecticut River when I saw my first bluebird. I even remember specific sightings of less glamorous birds like House Sparrows and House Finches. I know of one veteran birder who can tell you the date of first-of year birds he saw from the 1960's!

Try searching your own bird-memory bank. I'll bet you might surprise yourself with memories of specific birds and the details surrounding those particular sightings. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Behold The Kinglet With The Crown Of Gold

 I was in the midst of birding along the shoreline when I came across a cedar tree with several Golden-crowned Kinglets fluttering from the branches as they searched for food. Up until this point my unofficial objective was to look for a variety of sparrows and keep my eye out for certain species of birds that had been reported in the area. 

After several minutes of viewing I realized that these kinglets weren't going anywhere soon which presented me with an opportunity to observe them more closely.
 Golden-crowned Kinglets are a tiny bird with beautiful markings, especially their golden crown which is outlined in black.They mainly eat tiny insects and can survive in 40 degree below zero temperatures.
 It's not uncommon to find Golden-crowned Kinglets in Connecticut, especially this time of year. One of the things which frustrates me about them is that they move around so frequently that I find it difficult to photograph them. Usually, I end up with an out-of-focus photo showing blurred wings with the bird in an awkward pose. This time, I was able to follow their movement pattern until I was finally able to catch a few in the proper position. I spent an hour standing in front of the same tree but it was worth it to me.
 A Brown Creeper also came in to visit the same tree. They usually blend in with the color of the tree bark making them difficult to see. Catching one in this position with a mouthful of food was a pleasant surprise.
There were also several Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the area that day as well. Trying to catch one with its crown raised is a challenge for another day or maybe even another year.

I usually have some sort of plan when I'm out birding but I think it's important to be aware of special opportunities when they present themselves. There may be a limit to the number of birds you can see but the variety in which you can appreciate the world of nature is limited only by your imagination.