Sunday, April 27, 2008

Camping And Birding In Kent Connecticut

This weekend did some camping at Macedonia State Park in Kent, Connecticut. Kent is located on the Western border of Connecticut right next to the State of New York. Like many of the towns in rural Litchfield County, it is known for its scenic beauty. Everywhere you look there are steep hills, green fields, rushing streams and waterfalls like the one seen above. It is also well known by birders for having one of the best Spring Migration birding spots. River Road follows a portion of the Housatonic River and serves as a natural corridor for migrant birds during the spring. Birders have been known to see as many as 25 warbler species in one day during the peak of migration season. The campground I stayed at was conveniently only a couple of miles down the road from River Road.

I arrived in Kent at about 8am on Friday morning. Apparently, President Bush was scheduled to visit Henry Kissinger at 11:30 am just a few miles down the road. Surprisingly, I had no problems getting to where I wanted to go. It wasn't until 10 am that I had a chance to check out River Road. My first stop was at a bridge located right across from a school. The first two birds I saw were Eastern Bluebirds which were perched on the telephone wire. Then I saw a pair of swallows a pair of swallows which were flying underneath and around the vicinity of the bridge itself. This had my interest since I had read that Cliff Swallows used to nest on the support beams under the bridge. I took a look underneath and sure enough there were Cliff Swallow nests there. As it turns out , these must have been old nests. The two swallows that I had spotted turned out to be Rough-winged Swallows.
I followed Skiff Mountain Road until I saw a sign which read Appalachian Scenic Trail. I think this is where River Road officially starts but I was never really clear on that point. The road came to an end at a metal gate. From there, I walked a small portion of the riverside trail. The birds were really quiet at this time.
I was hoping to see an interesting bird or two before going back to set up camp. There were Tree Swallows flying back and forth across the river. A flock of Cedar Waxwings made a short stop in a tree above me before flying off. Then I heard a bird singing an odd song. I song sounded a little familiar but I couldn't quite remember what it might be. I finally figured out that it was some kind of vireo but I wasn't sure which one. Red-eyed?-no, too burry sounding- Then I had a great view of the mystery bird. It was the Yellow-throated Vireo -(seen in the above photo). That made my morning! It's not a rare bird but I was excited to see it.The Camping- After checking in at the Macedonia Campground office, I went to locate my campsite. I reserved site 24 which appeared to offer some privacy from what I saw on the reservation map. I usually camp on a weekday during the off season when no reservations are required but being that it was a weekend in April, I thought it would be the smart thing to do. As I drove up into the camping circle, I saw one site with no number followed by site 25. One other site across from me was occupied. I figured that the blank site must have been number 24. After I was all done setting up my tent and equipment, I noticed a small faded number on the opposite end of the picnic table. It was number 26- Oh No! I checked all the other sites around me but saw no 24. Finally, I asked the campers at the site across from me what site number they had. They told me that they had reserved number 24 but when they checked their papers, they discovered they had actually reserved 23. I didn't want to make both of us move so we were able to work it out with the campground managers that we could stay where we were.

My favorite time at the campsite are always when night falls. The camp fire is blazing and something good is cooking on the stove. I sit and listen to the sound of the water rushing over rocks in the stream below. One evening, I saw Wild Turkeys crossing the brook right at dusk and at the same time the mysterious calls of Barred Owls could be heard echoing in the woods. Its nights like that when I think: Life is good.
I went back to River Road early Saturday morning. I saw this pair of Common Mergansers standing facing in opposite directions on a rock in the Housatonic River. It almost looks like they might have had an argument.
click button to playThe warbler most commonly heard singing in the area was definitely the Louisiana Waterthrush. Every time I passed over a brook, I would hear one singing. In previous years I only saw a couple of waterthrushes all season. I would usually see them in the summer and Fall when they weren't singing. Have I just been overlooking them in the spring or are there more of them this year? I'm not sure. When you watch these videos, notice how the birds like to change positions and bob their tail when singing. This waterthrush sang throughout the day near the brook where at my campsite. It was very hard to locate though. The first few notes seem fairly even which was typical of the many waterthrushes I heard throughout the weekend.
click button to play
This one particular bird which I encountered along River Road had a different beginning to its song. the first few notes alternated up and down. I wondered if this was a Northern Waterthrush whose song I was unfamiliar with. After much searching, I found the bird and identified it as another Louisiana Waterthrush. I asked another birder who had a Birdpod to play a comparison between the Northern Waterthrush and Lousiana Waterthrush. I found out that the northern's song was quite different. This particular Louisiana Waterthrush stuck with the same beginning to its song every time while all the others in the area sounded like the one in the first video. I wonder why?

I parked my car at the end of the road and walked along the trail. I heard a bird singing a peculiar song that seemed totally unfamiliar to me. It turned out to be a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I had only heard one sing once before in northern New Hampshire. It was a real treat to able to see his red crest and listen to him singing. It started out slow with the warblers but became increasingly active as the morning went on. First I saw a Yellow Warbler in a shrubby area. As entered the wooded path, I began to hear a couple of Black & White Warblers. I had a brief look at a Northern Parula. I walked further down the trail past some pines. I could hear the thin, nasal call of Red-breasted Nuthatch. I could hear a Pine Warbler but could only catch a glimpse of its yellow. I saw a Winter Wren on the opposite side of the path. I came to an area where there was a patch of some younger trees.I noticed several Yellow-rumped Warblers. I watched them closely for several minutes as they moved from branch to branch and tree to tree. I noticed one acting differently. It crawled along the top of a horizontal branch. it was an tannish-olive colored bird with distinct stripes on its head. It was a Worm-eating warbler. I heard its buzzing song not long after. Several Palm Warblers moved into the area. I recorded another warbler which I was unable to identify (terrible lighting) . After playing it back, I believe it was a Black-throated Blue Warbler. That would make 9 species of warbler for the day. That is a far cry from the 25 advertised but pretty good for an April morning! It wouldn't surprise me if I missed something too.
I was heading back to camp late Saturday afternoon when I spotted a Great Blue Heron trying its luck at fishing in Macedonia Brook. There was something special about seeing this bird near a brook as opposed to the muddy little field ponds that I'm used to seeing them in.
Then there was this thrush. During the winter its usually an easy call for me. The vast majority of Catharus thrushes are Hermit Thrushes in Connecticut during winter. I knew this guy wasn't a Hermit Thrush because they always have a reddish color variation to the tail area. My first thought was-It's a Veery. I didn't have my binoculars with me and never got to see the front of the bird. Later when I looked back at the photo and compared it to a field guide, I noticed something strange. Aren't Veeries somewhat reddish in color. This bird is so washed out looking. maybe its just a variation in plumage or a product of bad lighting. I still think Veery but other possibilities did cross my mind. What do you think?
Other species that I saw during my stay included: Numerous Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Belted Kingfisher, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Phoebes, Bald Eagle, and Eastern Towhee. I also saw five species of woodpecker: Downy, Red-bellied, Northern Flicker, Pileated, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. In area like this it isn't surprising to find five species of woodpeckers. What is surprising was that the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers seemed to be the most numerous or at least the most noticeable. They are quite uncommon in my part of the state. Throughout each day, I could hear their squeaky calls. Several times I was able to view 3 sapsuckers squabbling with each other. I could hear them drumming a loud sequence of knocks on hollow wood throughout the day. It has a rapid-fire start and then slows down at the end. It sounds as if the sapsuckers are imitating the rhythm of the wheel spinning on Wheel Of Fortune. I saw about 60 species in total . If my goal was to build a big species list, I probably could have seen more.
click button to playI was exploring a back road in a different area when I came to a group of cars that were blocking the road. There were some people were wandering around with cameras and talking as though they were making plans to shoot a movie. While I was waiting for the scene to clear, I looked up and I saw a nest about 30 feet up in some ledges. I wondered what sort of nest it was. As I got back into my truck , a Raven came swooping down into the nest. I shot the video from my truck window. Seeing the baby ravens begging for food was quite a site. I didn't stay for long because I didn't want to disturb them.
In the future, I think that I would prefer to visit the Kent area during the week in order to avoid the weekend recreation crowds. Next year I hope to visit during the peak of Spring migration. I was pleased with my first real birding experiences in Kent. Now, I'm anxious to see what next weekend brings. This time of year there is so much to see!


J. Karl Clampit said...

Very cool! Sounds like you had a nice visit. Very nice pictures. Nice to see the video of the Raven with the babies!

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

It sounds like you had a fantastic time and saw so many things! I don't know about the mystery bird. I would have liked to have seen all those sapsuckers though. I see so few of them!

Ruth said...

What a great weekend. You pack so much into a post. I will have to return and go through it again.

Jochen said...

Yepp, that's the life...

I also think Veery, just by intuition and also because a) Hermit would have a different wing pattern, b) Gray-cheeked would have "peppered" cheeks, not unlike Wood Thrush and c) Swainson's would show the typical pattern of buffy lores etc. on the head.
So Veery sounds good. It does look a bit dull for Veery, but this might just be the light or the bird might be from the far NE of its range (Newfoundland), where a duller form, not unlike the western birds, can be found.
The latter assumption is a bit "risky" though, but Veery as a species (not speculating which population the bird is from) sounds like a reasonable ID.

Very nice weekend, and beautifully blogged about.

Larry said...

J. karl-thanks J. Karl-it was very cool.

Sandpiper-I was very surprised to see so many sapsuckers-Maye it's going to be a good year for them.

Ruth-That's true-Would you believe I already edited out half of what I originally wanted to post? I probably won't post again until at leas Friday though.

jochen-I guess it's risky to base an identification based on the color of plumage as well.-I've only seen a Swainson's once-that was last year.-Never saw the GC-so thanks for the input.

Jayne said...

Wow Larry! Nine types of warblers! I'd say that's a good trip! So many species to see and enjoy. Sounds like a wonderful place.

dguzman said...

Holy moly, what a trip! I bet that one will stick with you for a long time.

Mary said...

You to pack a lot into a trip and a post! It's so cool to see a Great Blue Heron take those long strides on dry ground. And then the running start for take-off!

Larry said...

Jayne-I can just imagine what it must be like seeing 25 species of warbler.-9 seemed pretty good to me.

dguzman-Camping and birding really seem to go well together.

Mary-I cut out about half of what I orginally wanted to post.-All I did was eat camp and bird. That is pretty neat seeing them run and take off.-Don't try that yourself though Mary-it could be dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Those LOWA's never let me get close for a photo adn you captured a video! BRAVO! Also the vireo shot is one of your best ever! WOW!

Mary C said...

Larry - it looks like that was a great place to camp - so peaceful sounding with the brook running through. And the number of birds you saw, wow! And what a great ending with the raven and her new offspring.

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm insanely jealous of your camping trip, as the wrens are nesting in our tent at present. Mind if I live vicariously through you for a while? *LOL* Sounds like it was a good time. :)

Larry said...

monarch-I had a hard time finding those LOWA's.-They seemed to thow their voices like ventriloquists.
Thanks on the vireo-I thought it was nice too with the lighting/color/sharpness-but of course their had to be a branch in front of its bill.

Mary C-Yes -it was a nice natural setting to camp.-Never a dull moment.

lana-sure-or you could go to plan B-rent a cabin in the woods.

steadyjohn said...

Great post Larry! Northwest CT is beautiful; I lived for many years in Sharon and other towns near Kent.

Amila Salgado said...

Impressive report Larry! Sounds like a another great trip. 25 Warblers at one site sounds mind boggling. Those Common Mergansers certainly look as if they've got into a bitter argument!

Larry said...

steadyjohn-That sure looks like a nice part of the state to live in but I must say it's seems prices are a bit higher there.

gallicissa-Thanks-The trip was a lot of fun.-That is a special area of the state that I live in.

RuthieJ said...

Gosh Larry, what an amazing trip! Your singing waterthrush videos were great. I was thinking maybe Swainson's for the thrush (just going by my Sibley's because I'm not very thrush proficient). I loved seeing the baby ravens in the nest--they sure sounded hungry!
I'm glad you shared this story and all the images with us. Do you ever go on a trip like this and when you come back to the "real world" and try to talk about it, people look at you like you're nuts? It sure is nice to have blogging friends to share this with and we can all appreciate what a grand experience it was!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful place to go camping! Loved the waterfall picture - so pretty. The Raven and Babies video is fantastic - lucky that you had to stop and wait around. Opportunity knocking!! And a good thing you looked up, too. You have a very nice blog.

Larry said...

ruthiej-To answer your question-yes.-Most people don't understand why you would want to spend a weekend camping just to get in touch with nature and do lots of birding.-I think that there are a lot of people missing out on something that could be a wonderful experience if they gave it a try.-There are some people who saw that photo and suggested the possibility of Swainson's or Gray-cheeked.-I'm sticking with Veery for now.

Larry said...

April-Thank you for visiting my blog and for the kind comments.I will stop by to have a look at your blog as well.

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, what an excellent weekend! You wrote a great post about your adventures. It sure makes me want to visit this area the next time I am in CT. How funny that you should go to Macedonia State Park and Beth should write about her daughter going to the real Macedonia at the same time!

Mary said...

Larry - I think you know me very well. :o)

Aunt "B's" Backyard said...

Hi Larry! Now that's what I call a post!! WOW you certainly had a wonderful camping experience. Just wonderful and the videos always add a touch of being there!

Anonymous said...

This is a very cool camping blog, I love the pictures of beautiful birds and beautiful spots also it ease my stress when i saw it although it is a movie.