Thursday, November 29, 2007

Do Birds Sing Jazz?

When I checked my e-mail Tuesday I saw one that was titled: Jazz Aviary- Jazz Music for Bird Lovers. That was enough to make me curious, so I opened it. It was from a woman named Christina Duren who had come across my "Dirty Birds" post when doing a google search. She explained that she is doing online promotion for a jazz artist named Susan krebs.

Here is a portion of the e-mail I received: "Hey Larry, I came across your blog while searching for birding sites and bird related blogs and found yours! Love your "Dirty Birds" will be keeping a closer look at the ground now. I actually handle online outreach for a wonderful collection of songs about birds that I think your readers may enjoy. It’s called Jazz Aviary and it’s a celebration of birds and of the universal music that we share by L.A. based jazz artist Susan Krebs. "

I thought that this approach to jazz music was an interesting and unique idea. Here is a link to the website if you would like to learn more about it: Susan Krebs-Jazz Aviary (click enter then Jazz Aviary to get to music samples).

Birding Magazines that I read-I've had a subscription to
Birdwatcher's Digest and Wildbird
for the last year or so. I enjoy reading both magazines. The letters from readers our always of interest to me. Their is usually one or two articles in each of the magazine's issues that captures my attention. The most recent issue of Wildbird has an excellent article written by Kevin T. Karlson which is titled: A different set of Eyes-Enjoy Backyard birding with new observation tips. In the article he writes about concentrating on shapes, behavior, and movements of birds in order to absorb three-dimensional impressions of birds instead of the two-dimensional impressions we get from a field guide. This topic is not something totally new to me, but I like the way he presents the concept in his article.

Do you have any other birding magazines that you would like to recommend?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Zeroing In On Particular Species

Part of what helps to keep birding interesting for me is to approach it in different ways. Most recently, I've decided to zero in on trying to find certain species. I've been looking for species that I haven't previously seen or ones that I haven't seen much of during the year.

The Casino Effect-Rare birds are reported by birders in Connecticut almost every day. I believe you would have a reasonable chance of relocating some of them if you went back to the same location within a short period of time. There are, however, certain species of birds that don't tend to stay in one place for very long. When one of these nomadic species are reported, it can be very tempting to try to search for them where they were originally found even though the chances are that they probably will be long gone by the time you get there. There may be only one or two reports of a certain species in the whole state but suddenly droves of other birders will have high hopes of finding that same species. It reminds me of people who play slot machines at the casino. The place is filled with people losing money. No one pays much attention to the people who are losing but if one machine suddenly pays off it gets everyone's attention. The nice thing about searching for elusive birds is that you never really lose. You still have a great time trying even if you don't always succeed.

Hammonasset-The day after Thanksgiving, I spent a few hours at Hammonasset. During my visit I was fortunate enough to see two new species (lifers)! These would be the Lapland Longspur and the Northern Gannet.

Let me give you a bit of detail about how I came about finding these birds. I ran into Adrian, Beth, and Fran, all fellow members of The Hartford Audubon . We were all checking through flocks of House Finches hoping to find a Redpoll mixed in. They mentioned seeing a Purple Finch and I happened to come across a couple of Fox Sparrows. We scanned through a flock of Horned Lark at the parking lot near the nature center hoping to find a longspur but there was none. Only a single Snow Bunting was mixed in with the flock. I was particularly interested in seeing a longspur as I had never seen one. They gave me some information about other locations in the park that they have been seen before. I found another flock of Horned Larks at the end of the West Beach Parking Lot. I searched through them one by one and Shazaam! There it was-the Lapland Longspur. It's not that rare of a bird to see but it was for me. It was not in breeding plumage and really blended in with the larks. What made it even more fun for me was that I found it myself. Adrian and Beth are always finding good birds. I finally beat them to the punch on this one and was able to show them where it was. They told me about some Northern Gannets which had been seen at Meig's Point, which is also located within the park. I went to look for them and sure enough they were still there. I watched them as they took turns diving into the water. There was also a swallow flying around the park. It was reported to be a Cave Swallow.

On my way back home, I noticed two Canada Geese with yellow neck collars swimming in a small pond. I checked the numbers and realized they were the same two that I had reported seeing last winter.

On Saturday, I visited East Granby Farms for a few hours. This is also the sight of one of the Hawk Watch locations in CT. There is a fellow named Joe who counts hawks there from about September until December every year. He's been helpful in giving me tips about identifying hawks in flight.
On Sunday, I briefly stopped at Glastonbury Meadows before heading over to the famous Station 43 area in South Windsor. This is a large area of farm fields that can be accessed from several locations by roads which divide them. The above photo is the area where I had a brief look at a Northern Shrike. The Shrike, which had been perched on one of those trees, dove into some brush looking for another bird to snack on. I spent a couple of hours birding with a veteran birder named Paul D. He keeps a list of everything he sees. He's been doing this for many years. We were surprised to find ten Ruddy Ducks in the CT River which is a bit unusual. Another birder named Rick told us about a male Baltimore Oriole he had seen. It's pretty late in the year to be seeing an Oriole! Paul and I had no luck in finding it though. We did see several Fox Sparrows and also a very sneaky Brown Creeper.
I had the day off Monday but it turned out to be a rainy day. I visited Lyman's Orchard in Middlefield CT, which has a large farm type store called The Apple Barrel. They have a pond which is loaded with ducks and geese. The majority are Canada Geese and Mallards. I was hoping to find a Greater White-fronted Goose, which had been reported here. I did see the similar looking Graylag seen in the above photo. I'm wondering if I'll know GWFG when I see one. I made an attempt to record a video of several hundred ducks and geese, which were making a tremendous racket. I kept pressing the shutter button halfway down to focus like I do when taking pictures. When I played it back, I discovered that pushing the shutter button halfway pauses the video. Hopefully, I'll have better success next time.
It won't be long before the Christmas Bird Counts start.
Will you be participating in a Christmas Bird Count?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ten Factors For A Good Day Of Birding

Here is my top ten list of factors that help make for a good day of birding. I tried to put them in order but not necessarily in exact order.

1) Preparation-If you leave things behind such as binoculars, field guide, camera, scope, batteries,field notebook,directions, jacket, or any other needed items it can put a real damper on things. Not leaving early enough can also detract from the day.

2) Sleep-Feeling well rested definitely enhances the day. I tend to be more perceptive in my hearing and vision. I am also much more enthusiastic if I've had a good night's sleep.

3) Weather-You can adapt your day to do some form of birding in any weather conditions but a pleasant day can enhance the overall experience.

4) Location-Exploring a scenic area, hot spot, or a location that you've never tried before can make things more interesting.

5) Birds-Seeing lots of birds, a good variety of species, interesting bird behavior, or new species can definitely help make it a great day of birding. Discovering a really rare bird can make for an exceptional day.

6) Optics-Having superb optics makes everything look so much better. It's not just the quality of the optics though. The viewing conditions- (lighting,air quality etc.) have a definite effect on the performance of whatever optics you do have.

7) Season-There are certain days in each season that exemplify the beauty of that particular season. -The perfect Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter day.

8) Time-I probably should have put this one higher on the list. Not having any time constraints allows you to bird at a much more relaxing pace without feeling that you have to squeeze everything in.

9) Food-It's nice to start the day with a cup of coffee and breakfast of your choice or perhaps hold off on breakfast till a little later in the morning.

10) Company-Although I enjoy birding alone, it's nice to go birding with others for a change of pace.

Which of these would make it to the top of your list? Do you have any that you'd like to add?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sunday Morning Along The CT River

I've really enjoyed seeing large flocks of birds descend upon the fields in the month of November. A field that appears to be nothing more than dead, trampled weeds and grass, contains food desperately needed for their survival. This flock of Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Common Grackles were feeding with such urgency on Sunday that my passing though represented nothing more than a brief interruption for them.

My first stop was at Wangunk Meadows right here in Portland. The temperature was in the mid 30's Sunday morning. The lack of wind and bright sunshine made conditions quite comfortable.

I intended to walk along the river until I reached South Glastonbury. That's probably about two miles. As it turns out, I only ended up walking about 100 feet or so. The birds were so active that I really didn't need to move. I was surrounded by Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, Dark-eyed juncos, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, American Tree Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, White-breasted Nuthatches, and White-throated Sparrows. They were eating berries, searching though empty nests, and pecking at the hollow canes of tall weeds. They were so active and noisy that you'd think they were eating coffee beans! I could see 8 Wild Turkeys walking along the banks of Gildersleeve Island, perhaps looking for a place to hide until Thanksgiving day has passed by. Two Belted kingfishers took turns letting out their loud rattling calls as they flew up and down the river. A group of six Northern Flickers seemed to be communicating with each other in some nearby trees. The sounds they were making reminded me of the squeaky sound you hear when someone is trying to clean a stubborn spot off a window using Windex and a paper towel. A few of the other birds seen here included: 2 Brown Creepers, 1 Gray Catbird, 2 Fox Sparrows, and 4 Swamp Sparrows.

My next and final stop of the day was at Glastonbury Meadows. I finally came on a day when their was no hunting activity going on. I spent less than an hour here, but I was pleased with some of the birds that I found. After walking through the wooded trail, I entered the fields. A mature Bald Eagle took off in flight not more than 30 feet from me. You don't really appreciate the awesome size of these birds until you are really close to them. I once had a view of two Bald Eagles when I was standing 10 feet above them. I looked down over a cliff and watched as they spread their wings and took off in flight. I was shocked. They looked enormous from that angle!

As I walked along the edge of the fields, I was repeatedly hearing the song of one particular species. I wasn't familiar with this particular song but soon discovered it was coming from White-crowned Sparrows. During most years, I only see a few White-crowned Sparrows in Connecticut. On this day, I saw ten, but by the number of birds I heard singing there must have been many more in the area. Moving further along, I heard the sound of a woodpecker making the sound of squeaky toy. It was an immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (although I'm sure it was acting its age). A flock of American Crows passed overhead. Interestingly, it seems that a Fish Crow was leading the flock. You can best identify the fish crow by the unique nasally call that they make, which is much different than the American Crow. I wondered if the Fish Crow had to stay at the front in order to have permission to travel with the flock of American Crows? I heard the chip notes of a sparrow coming from some birds that were well hidden amongst a patch of weeds. They kept flying from one spot to another but were hard to see. I was finally able to identify them as Savannah Sparrows. There were Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers patrol the fields. There was also an interesting flock of about 100 Rock Pigeons(some odd variations). If I had the time, I would have checked them out more carefully.

The last species of the day that I identified before leaving was a flock of about 50 American Pipits. They seem to stay close to the ground flying just a short distance away as you move closer to them. I was able to see a bit of the white outer tail feathers when they took flight. I only saw my first American Pipit two years ago. It took me quite a while to make a positive identification of the first one I saw. Since seeing that first one, I seem to have a much easier time locating them. It seems that way with a lot of birds that I have seen for the first time. Once you see the first one, it is usually easier to find more. Has it been your experience that it is much easier to find more of a particular species after you have seen the first one?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Songbird Mix Game

Name the song that the lyrics belong to and/or an artist who performed it. Let us know which ones you knew, even if it has already been answered: Blue=Unanswered Grey=incomplete Black=already answered
1) Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash as we fell into the sun, And the first one said to the second one there I hope youre having fun-
2) Remember when the circus came to town And you were frightened by the clown?
3) I looked out this morning and the sun was gone-Turned on some music to start my day -I lost myself in a familiar song- I closed my eyes and I slipped away
4) I got chills-They're multiplying-And I'm losing control
5)Now if you feel that you can't go on-Because all of your hope is gone-And your life is filled with much confusion-Until happiness is just an illusion
6) And I would have liked to have known you-But I was just a kid
7) Quite some time, I been sittin' it out-Didn't take no chances-I was a pris'ner of doubt.
8) I've been walkin' these streets so long-Singin' the same old song-I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway
9) And if it's bad-Don't let it get you down, you can take it. And if it hurts-Don't let them see you cry, you can take it
10)Girl-it's been a long time that we've been apart
11) A long time forgotten are dreams that just felt by the way. And the good life he promised ain't what she's living to day.
12)There's a sign on the wall-But she wants to be sure-'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
Match The Common names With The Scientific Names:
(Feel free to check the field guide!)
1)Picoides villosus
2)Tyrannus tyrannus
3)Troglodytes aedon
4)Pheuticus ludovicianus
5)Passerella iliaca
6)Cathartes aura
7)Plegadis falcinellus
8)Aythya collaris
9)Bonasa umbellus
10)Pluvialis squatarola
a)Glossy Ibis
b)Turkey Vulture
c)House Wren
d)Hairy Woodpecker
e)Eastern Kingbird
f)Black-bellied Plover
g)Rose-breasted Grosbeak
h)Fox Sparrow
i)Ruffed grouse
j)Ring-necked Duck
Famous Poems-Name Poem and/or Poet
1)Here is a little forest, Whose leaf is ever green-
2)And there the grass grows soft and white, And there the sun burns crimson bright, And there the moon-bird rests from his flight -To cool in the peppermint wind

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Following The Wind

With gas prices rising to well over three dollars per gallon again, I decided to keep my traveling distance to a minimum this weekend. I went for a ride down Millbrook Road in Middletown. This is an area of the town that I'm not all that familiar with and I thought it would be fun to scout it for potential birding areas. It was extremely windy this weekend which made the conditions for birding less than ideal. My first stop was at a place called Miller's Pond State Park. I don't recall ever having visited there, despite the fact that it's not very far from where I live. I was pleased to see that the shoreline was completely undeveloped. Birds were scarce here on Sunday, but I did manage to see flocks of Golden-crowned Kinglets and Tufted Titmice working their way through the treetops. I think this place may be good for warblers in the spring.
As I was exiting the park, I noticed that there was a group of Cedar trees at the top of the hill. I could hear Blue Jays making a ruckus and decided to climb to the top to investigate. It seems that they were probably harassing an owl hidden within the cedars, although I never actually saw one. What fascinated me more than that was a set of stone stairs leading to nowhere in particular.
Then I found the remnants of what must have been an old home. Complete with some type of fireplace/oven? structure. I'd like to find out more about the history of this abandoned home.

Is anyone familiar with this style of fireplace? How old do you think it is? This sort of stuff is always interesting to me. I can just imagine a farm family from way back when sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner in this old house.
The back roads took me in to the town of Higganum. I saw a veteran standing by a memorial to remind us of what day it was. My efforts really didn't pay off in terms of finding birds. I think sometimes it's a process of elimination though. Next time I'll choose a different area to try and hopefully will have better luck.
After I had my share of traveling around it was nice just to sit in my backyard and watch the birds at the feeders. I guess that's a simple pleasure that I shouldn't take for granted.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Watch Out For The Dirty Birds!

You might be wondering what I meant by using the term "Dirty Birds" in the title. I am referring to birds that are found on the ground, in places like fields and parking lots, that have an overall drab color which allows them to blend in with their surroundings.

In the past, I would tend to overlook birds like the ones in the photos. If I saw what looked like an empty field, I probably wouldn't bother scanning it with my binoculars. I figured "who wants to look at a field full of dirt"? These days, I search open fields and lots more carefully.
I was driving past this parking lot at Hammonasset Park, on a cold and cloudy day last week, when I noticed a glimmer of movement out of the corner of my eye. You can barely notice the little brown birds in the above photo, but...

a closer look reveals two Horned Larks and a Snow Bunting searching for a mid-morning snack.

When I returned to my hometown of Portland, CT, there were several hundred American Crows in a pumpkin field off of Route 17, that caught my attention. I almost didn't notice that there was a dozen drab little birds quietly feeding across the way.
It turns out that they were American Pipits. I've never seen American Pipits in Portland before. I probably didn't see them in Portland because I just didn't look carefully enough. If I hadn't scanned what looked like an empty portion of the field, I never would have noticed these pipits sunken down in the soil.
If you see an open field or grassy lot that looks to be empty, take a closer look. You never know, there might just be a few interesting birds waiting to be discovered.
Have you ever been surprised to find a bird in what looked to be an empty lot or field?

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Wicked Twitch Of The West

The above photo is that of a Harris's Sparrow. It is the largest sparrow in North America and it is rare to see them in CT. This bird was reported last night on the CT Rare Bird Report (B-mail). I decided this was a bird worth "twitching"(traveling to search for). A common reason that birders seek out rare birds is to add them to one of their lists. This is not a primary motivating factor for me. I just decided that I wanted to see this species of sparrow which I had never seen before. The area where it was reported, Allen's Meadow (Wilton, CT), has been on my radar as a place to go birding for a while now. It became a popular birding spot after a Brit birder named Luke started reporting rare and uncommon birds from this location.

What really made this a wicked twitch was the traffic! It seems like the majority of the rare birds that are reported in CT are located somewhere near the shore, but particularly in the western part of the state. It would appear that there are more rare birds in western CT along with a lot of active birders. The ride to Allen's Meadows was supposed to be about an hour's drive according to Mapquest. I left at 6am: "The early twitcher catches the bird", right? It actually took me over two hours to get there. The traffic was brutal! I asked a worker at one of the service stations if it was like this all the time and he said that this was just an average day of traffic. I had to pry my hands off of the steering wheel by the time I arrived at my destination. I can't imagine how someone could sit in that kind of traffic every day.

When I first arrived at the meadows there was already two birders searching the area. After about half an hour of searching, the Harris's Sparrow was finally located. It was perched near the top of a bush next to a community garden. I made a few notes and rudimentary sketches of the sparrow before attempting to photograph it. I couldn't get too close because I didn't want to take a chance of spoiling someone else's opportunity by scaring off the bird. I enjoyed conversing with the other birders who came along, a few of whom I had met before. It's also fun to help others to locate the reported bird.

Next came a class of budding birders on a mission to find the prized sparrow. Up until the time of my departure they hadn't found it. I saw some other interesting birds during my visit here including: two Eastern Meadowlarks, one Fox Sparrow, two Brown Creepers. These are fairly difficult birds to find in my home town. Allen's Meadows isn't much to look at. It's just a couple of athletic fields with some weedy areas and a patch of woods toward the back- but it has produced several rarities over the past few years.

On the way back home, I made a stop in East Haven, where a Common Ground Dove has been reported for the last couple of weeks. The bird has been seen near a brushy edge of an empty industrial parking lot. Armed with a folding chair, binoculars, and a camera, etc., it kind of felt like I was on a police stake-out. I carefully searched as many as fifty Mourning Doves at a time. Unfortunately, I never did see the Common Ground Dove. If I found what I was looking for every time, it would take some of the fun out of it. White-crowned Sparrows and a Sharp-shinned Hawk were there. It's amazing how birds see a hawk coming and scatter well before you even notice it.

While I was there, a well known birder named Dori stopped by to check on the status of the dove. She told me about how this area was identified as a productive birding area during a Christmas Count from a previous year. She keeps a continual supply of bird seed on the ground near a brushy border in this industrial lot. In this way, birds that would normally be hidden deep in the cover are drawn out for easy viewing. This has led to the sighting of some rare birds here.

Was seeing a Harris's Sparrow for the first time worth two hours of grueling traffic? To me, it was-absolutely. Not only was it a lifer, but it was an impressive looking bird to see. Was sitting in an industrial parking lot looking for a Common Ground Dove that never showed up worth it? Not really, but I have no regrets about that either. In a way, it's a gamble. Instead of gambling with money, you're gambling with your time. The question is: How much time are you willing to put in trying to find that special bird before you decide to fold your hand and call it quits? The answer is entirely up to you.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Smorgasborg Saturday

Here are a few photos that I took recently and didn't really know what to do with them. The first photo is of a Swamp Sparrow. I noticed that a bit of yellow is showing at the base of the bill as described in Sibley's Guide.It seems to have a yellowish tinge about the face as well. I used the method of pulling up in my truck and waiting for the bird to land on the brush pile to get this photo. If only an Ivory-billed Woodpecker would land on the pile I'd be all set. First someone has to make up their mind as to whether they still exist or not. Do you think the Ivory-billed Woodpecker still exists?

This squirrel is a very mischievous fellow. He will often follow me over to the metal cans where I keep my birdseed and jump right in within minutes after I take the cover off. I should probably have a name for him. What should we call him?
A deer in the mist. Look at the tail on this one. It looks like a Christmas Tree or maybe a bottle brush that Fuller Brush might sell. It would sure come in handy for cleaning my tube feeders. Do you remember the Fuller Brush Company?
How would you like to go swimming in this pond? All you need is a couple of hams thrown in and you'd have enough pea soup to feed a whole city.
This was taken at Eugene D. Moran Wildlife area in Massachusetts. It was quite a long drive getting up there. The area was beautiful! It had a clear stream, fruit trees, stands of conifers, and big open fields. Unfortunately, the place was loaded with hunters before I had a chance to do much birding. I talked to one of the hunters who gave me some pointers on how to avoid being shot. I decided to move on after seeing a Dick Cheney look-a-like. I did have a nice view of a Red-shouldered Hawk gliding around. They flap their wings pretty quick in between gliding. I also spooked up a Ruffed Grouse at Notch view preserve which was right down the road.
There was one moment when I attracted the attention of some Black-capped Chickadees after pishing. I was hoping to find Boreal Chickadees which had been reported in the area. Instead I had eight ornery chickadees flying right towards my face! I've been trying to get a look at a Boreal Chickadees for a couple of years. Have you ever seen a Boreal Chickadee?