Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Invisible Warbler

The weather was picture perfect this past weekend. The temperatures were in the seventies and plenty of sunshine coming our way. I made a visit to Devil's Hopyard in East Haddam in hopes of finding a Cerulean Warbler. I had a brief glimpse of one during a visit to East Rock Park in New Haven. The view was limited enough that I decided it didn't qualify to make it on my life list. There is an excellent book about where to look for birds in this state called Finding Birds In Connecticut. It gave me some ideas about where to search for the Cerulean Warbler within this park.

I walked the red trail working my way through the woods at a pace so slow that turtles were passing me. I did not encounter as many species of birds as Iexpected. Red-eyed Vireos, Wood Thrushes, and Ovenbirds seemed to be around in good numbers. I discovered that I could draw in a Red-eyed Vireo by making a kissing sound. I had one pop up on a branch right next to me but somehow managed not to get a decent photo. Most of the thrushes and ovenbirds that I saw were skulking around piles of branch debris or hiding within the shadows of trees. I had more luck birding by ear than by eye. Maybe I should have tried birding by nose. Do you know what I like about this park though? It doesn't seem to get overly hot or buggy here even in the summer.
There were a few Worm-eating Warblers in the area. They seem to like these type of rocky slopes. I had one nice view of one just across the stream. It was flying from one bush to another picking some sort of bugs off of the back leaves. The bird was never more than four feet from ground level.
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It wasn't until I was about to call it quits for the day that I heard it. "It" was the sound of a Cerulean Warbler. I could hear their song but could not seem to locate them. It finally wandered off to a different area or maybe it just stayed silent. I had one of those sore throats that makes it painful to swallow and it sapped me of my energy. I decided to come back to the exact same area the following morning. When Sunday morning came, I was right at the same location at 7am sharp. I could hear Black-throated Green Warblers in the background but there was no sign of the Cerulean. I found a relatively flat rock that offered a nice view of the river. It was covered with lichens which gave me an idea. I stretched out on the rock and laid flat on my back. It really was surprisingly comfortable and I was able to look up into the trees without having to worry about a stiff neck. After about half an hour , I started to hear Cerulean Warblers again. I waited patiently hoping that one of these birds would come into view. It never happened. I walked down to the river and could hear them so clearly. They seemed to be so close but I wasn't even able to detect movement. It was very frustrating! I stayed in the area for an hour but never even caught a single glimpse of one. I saw a report from a birder on listserver about numerous ceruleans seen over at Hartman Park in Lyme. Using the information in this report would have been like copying someone else's homework. I wanted to find one on my own. I can be kind of stubborn that way but that's part of the fun. This species is now officially on my most wanted species list.
On the way out, I came across another shy warbler singing it's song. It was a Black and White Warbler. I didn't get a glimpse of that one either so here's a photo of one during a visit to Portland Reservoir.
I made a quick stop over at Machimoudus Park on my way home. Machimoudus is a reliable place to find Orchard Orioles like these in the Spring and Summer. With the color of it's breast, I could imagine someone might confuse one with a Robin.

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I also had a little adventure trying to get a photo of a Hooded Warbler at Hurd Park. I was trying to take a photo without disturbing the activity of the bird which is an uncommon breeding species in Connecticut. It was flying to different trees but always managed to find a location that had me looking into the sun. The best I could manage was a very brief clip of this Hooded Warbler singing it's song. If you look very closely you can get a brief glimpse of its black hood.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Forgotten Videos

I was going through the process of deleting files from my computer today when I came across some forgotten videos. I never used them for various reasons. I decided to upload them to blogger before deleting them from my computer.

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I captured these Red-tailed Hawks in flight at the Michael J. Donnely land preserve in South Windsor when I visited in March. I didn't post this video because I had too much stuff to post at the time.
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I thought that I would be doing a good thing by using a tripod to capture these Snowy Egrets preening but a strong wind made the whole picture shaky. I went with a still photo for that particular post instead. This video was recorded in March at Great Island in Old Lyme CT.

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This video was very grainy because it was taken on a rainy day also in March at Stanley Park in New Britain. You can see the Cedar Waxwing eating crab apples.

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This last one is an alternate video clip of a Common Raven feeding its young in the town of Kent CT. I chose an alternate video for that post. I just figured out today that my computer came with a video editor. All this time I've been trying to upload videos of 50m or more. The video editor seems to shrink the size of the clips to just 3m or 4m which makes it much quicker to upload.

Have A Nice Memorial Day Weekend!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Kings Of The Canopy

It was 5:00am on Saturday morning when I noticed that the sky was just starting to get lighter. I gathered my binoculars and camera ready to head out for what I expect will be an exciting morning of birding. We are entering the peak of Spring Migration and reports of warblers have been promising this week.

I arrived at Portland Reservoir at 5:30am, not wanting to miss one moment of what is a perfect spring morning. The sky is clear and the forecast calls for temperatures in the upper 60's. There's something magical about the early part of the morning. It's the time of the day that my mind is at its sharpest with only the sounds of nature to compete with my thoughts. Most people are still asleep at this time allowing me to walk through the woods slowly with no distractions.

A few birds had started to already. There were the slurred singing of the Baltimore Oriole, the lyrical notes of a Song Sparrow, and the squeaking cackle of Canada Geese on the far end of the reservoir. As I walked along the path lined with towering trees, the sun made it's first appearance as its golden glow cast upon the long, soft needles of the white Pines. As I passed the small bog on my left, a beaver smacked its tail against the water letting me know that I was crowding its space.
As I walked further into the forest, things quieted down again. I thought about what I had read in the Bible the night before. I rarely read the Bible but when I do, I'm left with a lot of questions. Most of them start with the word how? Science has tried to answer many of the questions we have about life. They have even come up with theories about how life first began. I find these theories to be fascinating but they leave me with one big question--why? Scientific explanations seem to imply that life was created by a series of cosmic accidents causing a chain reaction which led us to where we are at this very moment. I'm not buying the theory that the miracle of life was just a lucky coincidence. Although I'm not a follower of any particular religion, I believe someone or something definitely had a plan. The truth is I'll probably never know who, what or why. These are the kind of thoughts that run through my mind when I drink coffee and go walking in the woods at 5:30 in the morning.
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As I came to the end of my walk, I started to hear a sound from the canopy above. Chick-brrr, Chick-brrr. That is the call of Piranga olivacea, more commonly known as a Scarlet Tanager--beautiful!

It was an excellent day of birding for me. I saved money on gas by staying in my hometown of Portland. I was able to see 14 species of warbler:

At Portland Reservoir- Northern Parula, Yellow , Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Pine, American Redstart, Black & White, and Ovenbird.

At Old Marlborough Turnpike-Blue-winged Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and
Chestnut-sided Warbler.

I took a ride over to Gadpouch Hill Road and parked my car across from the blue-marked trail which leads to the top of Great hill. This seems to be a reliable place to find Worm-eating Warbler during Spring Migration and this year was no exception. I could hear the insect-like trills of two Worm-eating Warblers just before the trail winds through the cliffs along the blue trail. Another reliable migrant that can be found here every spring is the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I had my first look at a male singing jubilantly as he flew from one treetop to another.
Once I reached the top of the hill I started to hear the low, croaking call of a Great-crested Flycatcher. I didn't hear its weep call at all. Maybe it was such a nice day that he had nothing to weep about. Here is a photo looking at the back of the bird sitting in a tree at the top of the 400 foot Great Hill.
Later in the morning, I stopped at the Portland Fairgrounds. Things didn't start out to well as I got my truck stuck in the mud. AAA sent out a truck that arrived within an hour. They pulled me out of the mud with no problem. The nice thing was that I was at a place that I could watch the birds while I waited. The fairgrounds were loaded with swallows chasing each other around. They were mostly Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows like the two in the above photo. There was also a variety of sandpipers to be seen including 12 greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, and Least Sandpipers. I was really pleased with the variety of species that I saw which totaled about 50.
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I will leave you with two videos that feature brilliant colored male migrants that love to sing from the tops of trees. I shall call them- " KINGS OF THE CANOPY."
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The first video is of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. He was quite easy to hear but getting a clear look at him was another story. I lost the bird at the end of the video but left it running so you could hear him sing a repeat verse of his song.
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Our second King Of The Canopy is a male Scarlet Tanager. He never got into his full song but you can clearly hear him repeating his call notes.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My First Pair Of Binoculars

Patrick at The Hawk Owl's Nest recently did a post about his first pair of binoculars and invited other bloggers to do the same. My first pair of binoculars actually belonged to my grandfather. As I recall, they were 7x50 WWII US Navy issued binoculars. I had nothing to compare them to but they sure seemed to have a sharp, wide-angled view. As a child, I would often spend a week as a guest at my grandparents house. Those binoculars were one of my main sources of entertainment during those times.
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I didn't have much of an interest in birds back then. I would glance at whatever birds were in the feeders but that was about as far as it went. I was more interested in stargazing and searching he skies for anything of interest. This included clouds, satellites, jets, and hot air balloons. There's probably not many kids these days that would be so entertained by a pair of binoculars. I spent hours at a time using them.
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There came a point when I decided to get my own binoculars. I don't remember the brand but they were 8-16 x 40 zoom binoculars, if I remember correctly. I don't know what happened to them but they didn't last long. The optical quality was not as good as my grandfather's.
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The first binoculars I used for birding were a $30 pair of 7x35 Tascos. They may not have been Swarovski's but they seemed to work just fine for me. They were ruined when I left them sitting in the sun. The cement that held the lenses in place must have melted.

Thanks for the fun idea for a post Patrick!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Return Of The Yellow Warblers

I am writing this post in reverse chronological order starting with Sunday evening. It 's been about 5 years since I took my first walk with the sole intention of looking for birds. My first birding spot was a trail that runs along the Connecticut River that is within walking distance from my house. One of my first great revelations came when I discovered there were tiny yellow birds with thin red streaks on their breasts living in the bushes near the river.
I carefully searched through my first real field guide, Peterson's Birds of Eastern and Central America, to try to find the identity of these tiny yellow birds. It didn't take long to figure out that these birds were Yellow Warblers. Where the heck did they come from? It amazed me to think that these birds had been around my whole life and I was just now seeing them.
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Sunday, I walked the same trail that I did five years ago and was happy to see that these warblers were back again; right on schedule. One of the things I like about them is that they like to hang out in thickets, which means I don't have to strain my neck looking up into the tops of trees to see them. I also heard a Wood Thrush singing from somewhere deep within the bushes. This is another bird that seems to come back to this area every year, which surprises me considering the patch of woods along this trail is very small.
There is a private field adjacent to The Portland Riverfront Trail that is often flooded, as it was this past Sunday. A quick scan of the flooded area revealed 2 Greater Yellowlegs and one Solitary Sandpiper, which is less common in Connecticut. The Solitary Sandpiper has a dark back, greenish legs, and a distinct white eye ring. There was also a Red-tailed Hawk circling over the field as well as a pair of Wood Ducks hiding in the weeds on the opposite side of the flooded field.
---------------------Can You Name The Plant In This Photo?
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Hartford Audubon had a field trip scheduled for Sunday morning at Gay City State Park. This park has a strange and interesting history that you can read about here. This is a wonderful park to bird in. It has well maintained trails with bridges to lead you over the streams. It also contains a pond and some interesting boggy areas. Some of the birders who came along for this field trip were also interested in plants.
The trip leader was under the assumption that his trip would be rained out since it was pouring as late as 6am in the morning. To his surprise, six hardy birders showed up for his trip any way.
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Birding was a bit slow, possibly due to the weather conditions. There wasn't a lot of bug activity and it was a bit chilly. Although the sun didn't come out, the rain held off for the entire trip. I did see my first of the year Black-throated Green Warbler, which was singing its zee- zee- zee- zee- zoo- zee song. We also saw a couple of thrushes. One of them appeared to be a Veery and the other a Hermit Thrush. We all had nice looks at a Yellow-throated Vireo as well.
------ ---------------What Is This Thing?
Saturday, I went on another field trip sponsored by Hartford Audubon at Machimoudus Park in East Haddam. Interestingly, I met a birder named Ed who reads my blog on occasion. It was fun to have him join us for the field trip. It is his hand that holds that strange looking...that's the problem, "What is it?"
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We had to work for the birds we saw, but in the end it turned out to be productive day. We had excellent views of an Orchard Oriole and Baltimore Oriole in the same flower-covered tree right next to the parking area. Orchard Orioles are uncommon in Connecticut, but they seem to be doing well at Machimoudus Park. We were able to patiently pick out an Ovenbird that was well-camouflaged amongst the fallen leaves. We had a great view of its striped head and breast. It took us a while, but we finally tracked down a singing Prairie Warbler. For some of the birders that was the highlight of the day. Adrian, the trip leader, was talking about how a Pileated Woodpecker has been taunting him at this park. He could see evidence of its holes all around and would often hear its rambunctious call. On this day he, along with most of the group, had a nice view of the bird at the top edge of a hill. I also saw my first of the year Scarlett Tanager.
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I believe the total number of species seen or heard was 53. Other birds of note included a Barred Owl (calling), Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wood Thrush, Pine Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, Great Blue Heron, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Phoebe.
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There was one last surprise at the end of the day. Just as many of us were getting into our cars to leave, I heard someone say "Peregrine Falcon flying overhead!" We watched it soar with its pointed wings slicing rapidly through the sky. It was a great way to end the morning!
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What was the first warbler you ever identified yourself?