Saturday, November 8, 2008

Birding With Vern

On Wednesday, the day after election day, I met up with Vern from Pennsylvania to do a little birding. He used to have an excellent blog called Big Spring Birds but decided to call it quits for now. I met Vern in Cromwell and after a brief introduction, we headed over to a pond in Meriden located on Research Parkway. I wasn't at my sharpest having stayed up late watching the elections. Vern was following me and I ended up taking a wrong turn or two but we managed to get to our destination in reasonable time. here were two ponds at the location but the one we were looking for was bordered by route 91. It was a busy area and the area around the pond had an ample supply of ticks. The pond itself, however was loaded with ducks, not ticks. There were about 100 American Wigeon in this small pond. The one Vern was looking for was a Eurasian Wigeon. After some careful searching using his scope, he found it-LIFER! There was also a couple of female Bufflehead, 2 Northern Pintail, and a Green-winged Teal in the pond along with various other goodies. Vern is a friendly laid-back sort of fellow that is easy to get along with. He also has a wry sense of humor and is an excellent birder as well. This is especially true when it comes to birding by ear. I can identify a lot of birds by their songs but Vern is able to identify a bird while it's still clearing its throat getting ready to sing! He is also very organized. He brought along a portfolio that included precise directions along with other information sealed in plastic protectors. I have information too, but its loaded up in a giant mound in the back of my truck.

Our next stop was at Hammonasset State Park in Madison, CT. This is one of Connecticut's better birding spots but the birds were kind of quiet on this day. We did have some interesting sightings though. As we came to one marsh across from the nature center, a large brownish bird flew low across the marsh. Vern said that he was pretty certain it was an American Bittern. "We consider that a trashbird where I come from" he said. "Trashbird!" I said. "An American Bittern is a pretty good species to see in Connecticut!" Apparently, bitterns are so common in the marshes in Vern's area that they have to spray the canoes with bittern repellent in order to be able to make their way through the water!

We also saw a few raptors around the park including a Merlin, Cooper's Hawk, and a Northern Harrier. There were also plenty of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets around. Birding on the Willard's Island trail was very slow but we did see a Hermit Thrush on the way out.
We had some interesting sightings over at Meig's Point. Vern Spotted a Ruddy Turnstone out on the rockpile and we had a close view of some Sanderlings along the beach. We saw some loons out in the distance and finally decided that they were Common Loons. We walked along another trail that bordered the shoreline. We saw a dark headed bird that flashed a lot of white when it flew. Upon further investigation, it turned out to be a White-winged Scoter. We walked further along the trail, and saw some more birds off in the distance. I could make out some white on the backs of their heads and wondered if they might be Buffleheads. When we looked at them through the scope, there was no mistaking that they were Surf Scoters. We had a great look at them. Neither of us had seen them from such a close distance before. They have really bold white markings on the front and back of their heads along with a very distinctive bills. Some birders call them Skunk-headed Coots. This was my favorite sighting of the day. What unusual looking birds. I can't remember if there were six or eight of them because I don't have my notes with me here at the library but it was a treat to see them.

We ended our search in the West Beach area of the park. There had been a Nelsons Sharp-tailed Sparrow reported there. We searched the area where it had been reported along a marsh but if it was there, it wasn't cooperating. We saw a few suspect sparrows pop up but after that they stayed deep under cover. One last bonus for Vern was that he saw his first Monk Parakeets in North America. We could see the lime-green birds flying off . They sounded a little bit like terns we thought. We didn't see a lot of species-only about 35 or so but we had fun.

We decided to call it quits and headed over to the nearby Fishtale Restaurant. I had some scallops and Vern had fried clams. It was a nice way to end the morning. Vern continued on to Rhode Island after that as part of his whirlwind New England birding tour. He also planned to go Maine and up to northern Vermont looking for Boreal species. Good luck Vern-It was a pleasure meeting you !
After Vern left, I started thinking about how we had missed out on that Nelson's Sparrow. I decided to go back to the park and search for it one more time. I went back to the same spot and after 10 minutes of searching, there it was! -Nothing! Again! I did see some other birds that had eluded us before though. There were 14 Snow Buntings in a lot that was further back than we had searched previously.
I also saw an Eastern meadowlark which was actually very interesting to me. At first, it stayed in deep grass and all I could see was the back of it. I never had a close-up view of one and all I could remember was the bright yellow belly. I noted a bird with a boldly striped back of the head and long bill that was acting very strangely. When it emerged, I was kind of surprised to see that it was a meadowlark. I was also struck by how conspicuous the white on its tail feathers were. It kept flicking and flashing the white on its tail. It was also larger up close than I would have imagined. The last birds that I saw on the way out were a group of Black-bellied Plovers in a grassy portion of one of the parking lots.


LauraHinNJ said...

Can't get your snow bunting video to work.


Neat that you got to meet an ex-blogger! And great birds, too.

Jayne said...

Well how neat that you got to go birding with Vern. :c) Glad he's doing well. Did you tell him we miss his blogging? Sounds like you all had a great time.

Ruth said...

I would love to see a Bittern. The video doesn't work for me either. When I finally saw snow buntings last year, it wasn't just one, but many hundreds together on a gravel road. They were hard to approach though.

Larry said...

Laurahinnj-I decided to just remove the video as it wasn't working for me either. Maybe it has something to do with using the library computer.
Jayne-Maybe he'll go back to blogging in the future.

Ruth-Hundreds of Snow buntings-that must have been pretty impressive!

Lana Gramlich said...

Bittern repellent...*ROFL!*

Mary said...

Larry, my head is still spinning with visions of so many birds (lifers) in Connecticut. So nice you were able to meet up with someone with as much knowledge as YOU :o) Vern sounds like a great guy to bird and have a meal with.

Monk Parakeets? WOW!


Anonymous said...

Hi Larry,
Just packed up the car and am heading home in the morning from my whirlwing NE trip. Ended up identifying 102 species of birds including 8 lifers! I'll send you the complete list when I get back. I wanted to thank you for showing me around Hammo. I really enjoyed your company. Who knows, one of these days I might start blogging again. If you're ever coming down to PA way let me know.

Larry said...

lana-Yes-I think you can get it at Cabela's.

Mary-I think only a couple of his lifers wee in Connecticut.-Connecticut isn't really known for being a great birding state-but it's not bad. Yes-it was nice meeting Vern.-I'm sorry your head is spinning.-You have watched the excorcist recently have you?-Monk Parakeets-very lime green colored!

Vern-My pleasure vern-Sounds like you had a great trip overall-8 lifers! .-I'll look forward to seeing that list.-How id you make out with the Boreal species? They aren't always that easy to find even if you're in the right place.

RuthieJ said...

Well, it sounded like you guys had a pretty productive day of birding--especially the waterfowl and shorebirds. Thanks for sharing the adventure with us.

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Larry, sounds like a great day and good to hear that Vern is still out and about. Fried clams sound good too!

dguzman said...

Beautiful day! You always see such great birds.

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, this sounds like a great day of birding to me. How nice to meet Vern! I use to visit his blog as well. Glad to know he is still around! Also, I did not know that Monk parakeets came all the way up to CT. I shall have to look for them next time I am there as I have yet to see one myself! Congrats on the lifer!

Birdinggirl said...

How lucky for Vern to spot the parakeets. I made a trip to the Monk Parakeet neighborhoods in Bridgeport several weeks ago but they were nowhere to be seen! I did post some pictures of their nests though. I feel bad for the people who live there- they make a terrible racket and I'm sure they are nuisances in other ways as well.

Larry said...

Ruthiej-Yes-we made out o.k. considering the weather conditions.

Zen-I like fried clams as long as they don't have any git in them.I prefer scallops or shrimp though.

dguzman-That's because they're all good to see-just being out there and alive is good.

Kathiebirds-I've seen Monk Parakeets across from Sandy Point, Old Saybrook, and Hammo. They're around if you loook in the right spots.

Birdinggirl-You'll find them eventually!