Saturday, April 12, 2008

Northern Rough-winged Swallows At Portland Reservoir

There is a big difference between an average hike in the woods and an extraordinary outdoor experience. Nature is always beautiful but the degree to which you can appreciate it can vary. For me, in order to fully appreciate nature, my mind needs to be clear of distractions. If I can achieve this, I feel as though I'm a part of my surroundings. If I am distracted in some way, my view of nature seems more two-dimensional. I would say today's walk was a good start both in terms of birding and achieving a clear mind. Hopefully this just a start of more great days to come.
I walked along a trail that took me through the woods of Meshomasic forest and around the Portland Reservoir. The entrance to the reservoir is at the end of Old Marlborough Turnpike in Portland. I was glad that I chose to ignore the forecast that was calling for periods of rain. It turned out to be a sunny morning that reached a temperature of seventy degrees. I came across several flooded streams but managed to get across them without giving my hiking boots an unwanted bath. As I walked further along the trail, I could hear the call of a Barred Owl echoing through the woods.
I found these plants growing along the banks of a stream. At first I thought it was Skunk Cabbage but it doesn't seem to fit the description of what skunk cabbage looks like in the spring. if you know what it is please tell me.
The path eventually circled around the opposite side of the reservoir. There was a wonderful smell of fallen pine needles that had been dampened from the heavy overnight showers. I saw several interesting species of birds during my walk including: Pine Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, Wood Ducks, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfishers, Wild Turkey, Hooded Mergansers, Pileated Woodpecker, and Red-tailed Hawk. There were still some Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows around but not as many as there had been in previous weeks. Eastern Phoebes seem to be abundant this spring. I've been seeing them everywhere I turn. I also saw two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers for the first time since last year's Christmas Count.
The birds that I had the most fun observing today were Northern Rough-winged Swallows. They are the only swallow in Connecticut noted for nesting in drain pipes. This species also lacks the distinct breast band seen in the similar looking Bank Swallow. Rough-winged Swallows nest singly as compared to the Bank Swallows which nest in colonies. Here are a couple of "Cool Facts" about the Northern Rough-winged Swallow from Cornell's All About Birds:
  • The barbs on the primary feathers of the male Northern Rough-winged Swallow are distinctly hooked; those of the female are smaller and straighter. Running a finger from base to tip along the barbed wing edge yields a sensation similar to that of touching a rough file.
  • The function of the rough wing edge of the Northern Rough-winged Swallow is not known.
  • In one documented case, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow pair nested inside a Civil War cannon.
click to play
It looks as though one swallow is bringing nesting material to the other. I also enjoyed watching these birds skimming the top of the water to catch small insects-(not visible in this video).
How is Spring Migration progressing in your area?


John B. said...

I just saw my first northern rough-wings of the year yesterday. Nice to have them back.

Larry said...

john-Aw shucks-you beat me by one day! It is interesting to follow the patterns of migration.

RuthieJ said...

I've never seen a northern rough wing swallow! It's interesting how they find these holes in man-made structures and use them for nesting.
Very little in the way of spring migrants here in SE Minnesota yet, but with the onset of warmer temps and sun in the coming week, hopefully we'll start seeing more migrants.

J. Karl Clampit said...

Thanks for sharing! Never seen one before. Purple Martins and Barn Swallow are more common here. Nice video!

Anonymous said...

Migration is proceeding just fine. Had a Palm Warbler on the Maple by my back porch and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher while jogging. Often I am distracted when I begin birding but by the end of my time in nature my mind is at peace. It is the best therapy I know.

Larry said...

ruthiej-I'm sure they'll be heading your way soon.-They are easy to ovelook when flying near other swallows.-Keep a sharp eye out for them!
j karl-Purple Martins are sort of hard to find around here.

Pa-birder-Looks like your migration pattern is pretty close to ours.-Both of those birds were reported in CT yesterday.-Works for me too most of the time.

Jayne said...

I've not really seen any migrants yet either, but expect in the next few weeks I'll be seeing some visitors headed north.

I love the way you appreciate every detail of your walks Larry. Such cool swallows. Great video!

Jessica said...

Wow, that's a great list of birds you saw all in one day. Hope you have many more days just like that!

Colleen said...

Sounds like a great day of birding. Today our first Ruby Throated Hummingbird showed up. I was very excited and hope he plans to stick around. And yesterday I saw my first common yellowthroat warbler of the season. :)

Colleen from Richmond

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Nice video!
Migration in upstate NY is coming along nicely. We're behind just about every other blog I read, but looking forward to lots of new arrivals in April and May!

Lana Gramlich said...

Portland Reservoir looks lovely.
Here in the deep South we get the birds that leave y'all up north through the winter. So most of them are gone now (winging back your way.) A few chipping & white throated sparrows left. They may have decided to stay--I don't remember them being here so late last year.
In other news, we have 5 indigo buntings. Last year they were here for about a week & moved on. If this is the same crew/story, they should be moving on shortly, too. We shall see...

Larry said...

Jayne-Thanks Jayne-I usually add a couple of details that I notice. if I was a little more adept at writing, there would be more details included. I had fun watching those swallows. I just wish that I had the camera on a tripod instead of shooting video through a chain-linked fence.

colleen-Great birds to see!I'm looking forward to the hummingbirds. Common Yellowthroats are a stunning bird! It shouldn't have the word common attached to its name.-There is nothing common looking about a male yellowthroat!

jessica-Thanks-You and me both!

Zen-I guess it doesn't matter when they show up as long as they do show up!

lana-that's good-you can let us know when certain species have left and are heading our way.-Portland reservoir is a nice little place that we have in town.-Glad that we have such a place.

Mary said...

Hi Larry,

We could use a few more 70 degree days like you had. As you know I don't get away for hikes much but I have marvelous birds arriving at my house during spring migration: Common Grackles and Pigeons! LOL! Brown Thrashers and one male hummingbird who visited a few times before winter returned. Juncoes and White-throated sparrows are still plentiful. It's early in the season, though.

Anonymous said...

great list of birds and congrats on the Rough-winged Swallow! I thought I had one last Thursday but didn't have my binocs and thought maybe it also could have been a second year tree or was in bad lighting tree swallow! never did see the bird again! Great photos/video that you captured !

Larry said...

Mary-I'm a fan of the Brown Thrasher. We don't see many around here. you should get out for a birding trip or two this year!

You're able to tell how old the Tree Swallows are by looking at them?.-I'll have to work on that one. I'm a little confused about judging their age and sex by plumage from what I'm reading in the field guide.

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

Fantastic sightings. You have always have such good walks.
The name of your mystery plant is often called skunk cabbage, but it's not. I had a recent post about it on my own blog this week (Out & About 2). This is what I wrote:

With the local history and so many names referring back to Native American traditions, they call the plant Indian Poke here. It's also known as Corn Lily - False Hellebore, (veratrum veribe.)

A lot of people call it Skunk Cabbage, but Skunk Cabbage leaves actually looks more like cabbage or lettuce.

That being said, it looks like the taller leaf might be skunk cabbage though. Not sure.

Larry said...

Thanks for clearing that up. I thinnk that I was mixing up this plant with skunk cabbage but when I looked at the skunk cabbage photos I thought they were Jack-in-the pulpits. Major plant ignorance going on here! I recognize the summer photos of False Hellebore as plants I've seen before.-Nice to see that they're native plants.

Cathy said...

I am loving your movies. I can't remember that I've seen this swallow. Dang. Gotta sharpen my eyes and memory.

Anonymous said...

Your adventure and video prompted me to go to a little brook near my house to see if the swallows were there. I put on old boots and let myself into a tiny crick that runs alongside an entrance ramp to Rte 84. The brook turns in to a culvert and it is in the drainage pipes that I saw the northern rough wing swallows nesting. The surface of the brook broke into little rings where the insects emerged and the swallows fed on them flying directly into the culvert and going the whole length to eat. I recommend everyone to look around while at the stop signs or lights at your highway exits near your house and your will see water somewhere. Then blaze your own trail. You would be astounded at the peace hidden away and the critters you can see. Thanks Brownstone man, it was just the prod I needed! Ed T

Kathie Brown said...

Here in Tucson the Vultures, white-winged doves and green-tailed towhees are back. I haven't seen Say's phoebes or Rock wrens in awhile. Still waiting to see if the purple martins return.

Larry said...

cathy-Glad you like the movies!it is easier to catch a bird on video than it is to get a quality photograph but keeping the camera steady is difficult for me unless I use the tripod.

Ed T-(anonymous)-Thanks for the great comments! The fact that you went out to find those swallows after reading my blog makes me feel good!

Kathiebirds-It's interesting to see what different birds are over your way.-It also gives me incentive to visit the western US some day.