Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Birds Of The Past Present And Future

I happened to notice over the last month just how many versions there are of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Most of the time they change a few details around and give it a new name but in the end they are basically the same story. This gave me the idea to organize this post into birds of the past, present and future.

Part 1-Birds of The Past-Salmon River Christmas Count: I have participated in the Salmon River Christmas Christmas count for the last few years by joining other birders to count birds in my home town of Portland. It was nice just being one of the birders and not having the responsibility of being a team leader. This year I received a call from the group leader of Portland telling me that their was a vacant spot in the East Haddam territory because the captain of that area, had recently moved to Texas. She wanted to know if I could take his place in covering his former territory. I wasn't overly excited about the idea. First of all, Clay is a great birder. He even found a Western Tanager a couple of years ago during the Christmas Count. He went all out to do this count including owling and even searching for ducks by using his canoe. Those were shoes that I knew I couldn't fill but I decided to do my best to try to help out. I started out by making three dry runs through the territory before I was comfortable with the area. I was able to get help from three other excellent birders. Thanks to Adrian, Beth, and Andrew! I wouldn't have been in over my head without them.
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Some of the highlights included:
  • Dozens of Eastern Bluebirds. They seem to be everywhere in East Haddam right now.
  • A large flock of Cedar Waxwings. I don't have the list in front of me but I think we saw about 70 in one flock.
  • A Barred Owl that we were able to call at Machimoudus Park before daylight.
  • 2 Pileated Woodpeckers seen in full view at Machimoudus Park.
  • A total of 4 Winter Wren and 10 Hermit Thush.
  • Several Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
  • Several Red-shouldered Hawks.
  • A Red-throated Loon was the last bird recorded that day near the East Haddam Bridge.
  • It should be noted that I almost ended up in the Connecticut River when I drove through a puddle of water near the Salmon River Boat launch that turned out to be over three feet deep!

Over all, I think we did okay considering it was the first time we covered the area. The most challenging part was trying to figure out how much time to invest in each area before moving on. I was supposed to take part in another count but it was postponed due to weather. That should be coming up this weekend.

Part 2- Birds Of The Present- I spent this weekend camping at Pachaug Forest in Voluntown, Connecticut. Yes, I do know that it is December. It was a bit chilly with a temperature of about 20 degrees but that's a heatwave in places like Minnesota. People that know me aren't even surprised any more when I tell them that I'm doing something......unconventional.

There was one other camper when I first arrived. It did appear that they had a wood stove in their tent as evidenced by the chimney jutting out from the top. I didn't see many birds outside of the usual Hermit Thrushes, woodpeckers, Kinglets, creepers and other assorted winter woodland birds. I was hoping to come across some winter finches but that never happened.

When the night set in, I was all alone. I thought it fitting when the song here -Here Comes The Night started playing on the radio. I have to admit that it was a little creepy being out there alone. I could feel my adrenaline rise a little making me more aware of sound and movement in the vast darkness surrounding me. In the course of every day life , the accumulating number of minor concerns can lead to anxiety that doesn't make make a lot of sense to me. At times I can feel anxious or stressed out without even knowing what the cause is! We are prepared for fight or flight, but against what? At least in the woods I know what the source of my fear is. Being alone in the woods and surrounded by darkness makes you more vulnerable. The unlikely possibility that someone or something may sneak up on me does sometimes enter my mind. I consider that feeling just part of my camping experience and it really doesn't bother me. Spending time alone in the woods gives me a chance to clear my mind of needless thoughts. It is kind of like clearing temporary files/cache from an Internet browser.


I regret not having recorded the vocalizations of an owl that I heard the last time I was camping. This time the owls were fairly quiet but if you listen closely to the video you will hear an owl call out with a short hoot at the beginning and then again at the end of the video.

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Can you hear the owl call in the background? What kind of owl do you think it is?

Part 3-Birds Of The Future:

Participate In The Big January Listing Game!

Some of you may remember this game from last year. Simply keep a list of every species of bird that you see in January in your home state starting January first and ending January 31st. Every species you see in your state counts whether you see it at home, work, or while you're out birding (except for dead or captive birds). Remember, a House Sparrow is worth just as much as a Snow Bunting! I set a goal to see at least 90 species. I'm really hoping to reach 95 or more this year. Set a goal that is realistic for you in your particular state and try to reach or exceed it.

Why? you may ask. Because, It makes the month of January more fun!

You can post results on your own blog or comment on your progress here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's Greetings From The Snowbirds!

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It's been quite a while since I've had a chance to really see what's going on at my feeders. It's dark when I go to work and dark when I get home on weekdays. On the weekend, I'm out birding somewhere while the birds are most active at the feeders. Last weekend, we had a substantial snowstorm. I wasn't excited about all the shoveling but it was nice to watch the backyard birds for a change. Yeah Yeah-I know nobody likes starlings but they do have that just snowed on look don't they?
One of my favorite winter visitors at the peanut feeders are the Carolina Wrens. We've had two of them visiting our feeders this winter. This one looks like it's frowning. Maybe he could get a starring role in "Grumpy Old Wren"!
Wrens have such quick, jerky, movements that make them fun to watch. I'm always compelled to take a look at them through binoculars. They have such interesting fieldmarks with their white eyebrow, curved bill, and cocked up little tail. The two wrens in my yard have been working as a tag team, calling back and forth to each other. "Hey Caroline-There's a fresh batch of peanuts over here"!
Blue Jays are underrated if you ask me. It took a moment to stop and appreciate the bold facial markings of this jay.
I don't think any bird appreciates the peanuts I put out more than the Tufted Titmouse.
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I captured a short segment of a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the suet. The starlings that showed up couldn't seem to get along with each other as usual.
The Downy Woodpecker is another bird that we take for granted just because they're usually the most common woodpeckers at the feeders. Still a nice bird though.
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This Northern Flicker drove me crazy. I saw it on the suet and was so impressed by the bright yellow coloring on it's underside that I set up my camera on a tripod and constructed a blind out of cardboard to take photos from my breezeway. I am convinced that this flicker knew what I was up to. Every time I attempted to get the flickers photo, it flew off. If I left the house, it came back. My wife, Joan, would call me on my cell phone to give me updates. The best I could do was get this video of Mr. Flicker giving me that suspicious look as it perched on the top of the shepherd hook. I've got a couple of days off and I'm looking forward to catching up on reading all of your blogs.
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Merry Christmas And Happy Holidays To Everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Books by Julie Zickefoose, John C. Robinson, and Nevada Barr

I recently read a book titled Letters From Eden by Julie Zickefoose. The book is a collection of stories about her encounters with birds and other animals. What makes the book special is the way Julie is able to bring each story to life using words, sketches, and paintings that are able to connect the reader with each moment by seeing them through her eyes. She is able to take what is happening in her own life at the moment, and make a seamless transition into nature.

One of the things I enjoyed about reading this book is that each chapter was an individual story. This allowed me to read the book at my own pace whenever the mood hit me. The morning after I finished this book. I was inspired to sketch three bluebirds perched on a snag in the middle of a bog. This book also gave me some new ideas as to how I might approach my own observations of birds and animals. Birding For Everyone -by John C. Robinson
John C. Robinson , world renowned natural history tour guide leader, ornithologist, delves into the topic as to why there seems to be a lack of interest in birding and other nature related activities among African-Americans . In this book, John talks about some of his birding experiences and shares a few tips about his personal approach to birding. The main point of this book is to bring attention to the fact that there is a lack of participation amongst African-Americans and other minorities in the birding community. The book uses statistical analysis gathered from various surveys to offer some possible explanations as to why this is true and suggests some ideas on how to start reversing this trend. John makes the point that Americans now considered to be minorities will become the majority in the not too distant future. This is something that is important to consider if we want to vote people into office that are interested in passing laws that will protect the environment.

Winteer Study-by Nevada Barr
Nevada Barr is a National Park Service ranger who has written a number of mystery novels with Park Ranger Anna Pigeon as the lead character. I listened to the audio version on my mp3 and thought the voice characterizations were done very well. The story takes place in Michigan's Isle Royale National Park where Anna pigeon is sent out to join a team that studies wolves. Homeland Security also plays a part in the story as they are considering shutting down the 50 year old wolf study project. Several Members of the team are viciously attacked and killed by a new breed of giant wolves ....but is there more to the story? This is the first book I've read by Nevada Barr and found it to be very entertaining-like Lifetime meets Discovery channel. I especially enjoyed the parts where she so vividly describes scenes in which the characters have been overcome by the elements of nature. I'm looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

Note: If you live in Connecticut, check out this link to download free audio books on to your mp3.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tornadoes In Connecticut? Run Toto Run!

I put in a solid 10 hour day of birding Sunday for a Christmas Count. I was driving across the bridge to meet with the other participants of the count when I saw this mysterious cloud . My common sense told me that there wouldn't be a giant tornado in Connecticut during the month of December . Still, I did a double take when I saw this interesting cloud formation illuminated by the late afternoon sun.

Friday, December 12, 2008

First Snow Of The Season

Last Sunday, I walked through the fields and woods of Wangunk Meadows until I ended up in this pumpkin field in Glastonbury. Where's Charlie Brown?
I managed to avoid the high winds that had been predicted for that day and instead found the air to be still and refreshing. The snow that fell Sunday barely coated the ground but it was enough to bring back some fond memories. I reminisced about how I used to build snow forts with the neighborhood kids , stage elaborate snowball fights, and race down Foss Hill with my Flexible Flyer. I remember one Christmas Eve when we looked out the door and saw snow rapidly accumulating on the roads and sidewalks. The giant snowflakes had a magical quality to them as they fell silently in front of the streetlights. This inspired a group of family and friends to go from doorstep to doorstep singing Christmas carols. The whole experience was like a scene from a Dicken's novel.
The falling snow seemed to muffle the sounds of distant noises like planes and traffic. This seemed to make the chatter of the birds more clear and distinct. I wonder if I could tell if it was snowing simply by the smell and sound of the air?
The birds were very active on this morning as they usually are when it snows. Watching them search for food reminded me of people who rush out to the store as soon as they hear the word snow in the forecast. People stock up on food as though their lives depended on it. The difference being that the lives of birds do depend on their ability to find food. Can you find the hidden bird in the above photo?
During much of the year, I tend to look past some of the more common birds because I'm looking for migrants. Winter is a time that I'm more able to appreciate birds like this Black-capped Chickadee.
I admire the ability of birds that manage to survive through tough winters. It's hard to believe that cardinals were once a southern species. I saw over a dozen male cardinals during Sunday's
walk. Cardinals always seem to be most stunning against a snowy background. Most of the birds I saw were the same that I might see at my feeders this time of the year. Goldfinches, various woodpeckers, titmice, and sparrows. The exceptions would be the Swamp Sparrows, Red-tailed hawks, and Eastern Bluebirds that I encountered. Still, for some reason, there's something special about all the birds during the first snow of the season.
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What are some of your fondest memories of snow?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Songbird Lyrics 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-answered

1)Maybe you think that love was made for fools. So it makes you wise to break the rules..

2)Just then I saw a young hawk flyin', And my soul began to rise, And pretty soon, my heart was singin'...

3)You'll remember me when the west wind moves-Among the fields of barley -You can tell the sun in his jealous sky

4)Sleigh bells in the air. Beauty everywhere. Yuletide by- the fireside And joyful memories there

5)Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli? Bowser from Sha Na Na and Arthur Fonzarelli!

6)So long sad times-Pull along bad times-We are rid of you at last

7)'Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled

8)Down in Louisiana- Where the alligators grow so mean
There lived a girl that I swear to the world -Made the alligators look tame

9)If I seem edgy, I want you to know, -That I never mean to take it out on you.
Life has its problems, and I get my share, -And that's one thing I never mean to do

10)Saturday night and you're still hangin' around-Tired of living in your one horse town-You'd like to find a little hole in the ground, For awhile

11) Some folks like to get away, Take a holiday from the neighborhood. Hop a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood. But I'm takin' a Greyhound on the Hudson River line...

12) I want you to know, that I'm happy for you-I wish nothing but the best for you both

13)By the county line the cops were nipping on our wheels-Pulled off the road kicked it to 4 wheel-Shut off the lights, tore through a corn field

14)This morning put salt in my coffee. I put my shoes on the wrong feet. I'm losin' my mind, I swear; It might be the death of me, But I don't care.

15) I, I’m driving black on black -Just got my license back-I got this feeling in my veins this train is coming off the track

16)Time cast a spell on you -But you won't forget me

17)It is the summer of my smiles - flee from me Keepers of the Gloom. Speak to me only with your eyes. It is to you I give this tune.

18) A church house Gin house- A school house Outhouse-On Highway Number Nineteen-The people keep the city clean

19)You say you're cried a thousand rivers-And now you're swimming for the shore-You left me drowning in my tears-And you won't save me anymore

20)I've wasted all my tears-Wasted all of those years-And nothing had the chance to be good-Cause nothing ever could oh yeah

21)The mood is right- The spirits up- We're here tonight- And that's enough

22)Out of all the reindeers you know you're the mastermind

23)A cloud appears above your head-A beam of light comes shining down on you-Shining down on you

24)We sailed on together-We drifted apart-And here you are by my side

25)Oh oh here she comes-Watch out boy she'll chew you up

26)May God bless and keep you always -May your wishes all come true-
May you always do for others -And let others do for you

27)And I've lost my light-For I toss and turn I can't sleep at night

28)Movin' down a crowded avenue- Doing anything we like to do -There's always lots of things that we can see- You can be anyone we like to be

29)Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean, My fist got hard and my wits got keen,

30)Well, if it rains, I don’t care-Don’t make no difference to me

Friday, December 5, 2008

Call Me Gullible When It Comes To Gulls


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Last Friday, I had already decided that I was going to look for gulls the next day. The only ones I usually see are Ring-billed, Herring, Black-backed and the occasional Laughing Gull that hangs outside of the comedy club. My plan was to make an attempt to figure out the age of gulls based on their plumage and markings. On the same night, a report came across that a Slaty-backed Gull had been found at the Windsor Landfill. This would be the first confirmed record of one in Connecticut. A very skilled and determined birder named Nick Bonomo was the one who found it. I decided to take a ride the next morning to see if the gull was still around . I arrived at the landfill as soon as it opened along with 20 other birders. Soon after we arrived, We saw this (1st winter?) Iceland Gull.
There must have been well over a thousand Gulls at the dump, probably more. I didn't take the time to count them.
We found the bird we were looking for within the first half-hour that I was there. In all honesty, I don't know that I would have picked this gull out amongst the others that day if I were by myself. I guess I'll never know. Another birder who was knowledgeable about gulls found the slaty-backed for us. I had to see it a few times before I was able to clearly distinguish it from the other gulls. The photos I took of the bird of the bird came out poorly. You can see the Slaty-backed Gull does have very pink legs and somewhat of a pot belly. It also has black wing tips with white dots that you can see when the bird flies. Click on the link for Nick Bonomo's blog: Shorebirder to see a detailed description of the SB-Gull along with some great photos of the bird. It was fun to know that I was seeing the first confirmed Slaty-backed Gull in Connecticut. One birder from New Jersey told me that he had missed this particular gull on five previous attempts.
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I watched gulls at the Windsor Landfill before heading off to Wethersfield Cove to have a look at what was hanging around there. I took notes, photos, and even made sketches of the gulls that I saw. I posted the photos on a bird identification website and sadly discovered that my assessment of the gulls ages were mostly wrong. A lot of them turned out to be "sub-adults according to other birders who had some experience with gulls ." In fairness to myself, I didn't even see sub-adult listed as one of the choices in my field guide. I'm thinking about purchasing a gull specific field guide to help me gain a little more knowledge on the subject. I saw a review by Mike of 10,000 Birds for a field guide called Gulls Of The Americas.
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Does anyone have a recommendation for a field guide that specialize in gulls?
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Here's a video of the Slaty-backed Gull in action. There was a lot of noise from the wind but you can also hear birders talking in the background, some of whom came from out of state just to see the Slaty-backed Gull.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Destruction Of Habitat In Canadian Boreal Forest

I received the following e-mail today:
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My name is Paige Knappenberger, and as an intern for the Natural Resources Defense Council I do social network outreach for our Advocacy Campaigns department. Today we released a big report describing how continued tar sands development in the Canadian Boreal Forest is destroying the habitat of many migrating bird species that spend their winters in our backyards. Basically, when our feathered friends return to Canada in the spring they are going to be homeless if the destruction of their habitat is allowed to continue unfettered. I was hoping you might be willing to share the report with your readers to help raise awareness about this problem.

This is the first I've heard of this particular problem so I am passing along this article but I don't know all the facts about this particular situation.

Danger in the Nursery
Impact of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal on Birds
Each spring more than half of America's birds flock to the Canadian Boreal forest to nest. There, tens of millions of birds -- as many as 500 breeding pairs per square mile of forests, lakes, river valleys, and wetlands -- spend the winter. Yet almost all the biggest oil companies are mining and drilling important Boreal forest and wetlands to access thick, low-grade petroleum. As much as an area the size of Florida is endangered. This December 2008 report from NRDC, The Pembina Institute and the Boreal Songbird Initiative describes how Canada and the United States must protect migratory birds and bird habitat from this new form of high-impact energy development.

Tar sands oil development creates open pit mines, habitat fragmentation, toxic waste holding ponds, air and water pollution, upgraders and refineries, and pipelines spreading far beyond the Boreal forest. This development is destroying habitat for waterfowl and songbirds that come from all over the Americas to nest in the Boreal. Each year between 22 million and 170 million birds breed in the 35 million acres of Boreal forest that could eventually be developed for tar sands oil.

Faced with tar sands development, migrating birds don't just move elsewhere since they depend on a certain type of habitat. Not only do many adult birds die when faced with lost and fragmented habitat and ponds of mining waste, but future generations of birds will have lost their chance to exist.

The rapidly expanding industrial tar sands oil extraction operations increasingly place these birds at risk. Virtually every facet of tar sands oil development has the potential to harm Boreal birds -- many of which are migratory birds that are protected by treaty and national law. Combining the various estimates of the loss of birds from mining and in situ operations, the report projects a cumulative impact over the next 30 to 50 years ranging from a low of about 6 million birds lost to as many as 166 million birds lost.
Tar sands oil development should not be the solution to our fuel needs. Both Canada and the United States have a choice to make between fuels that harm the environment (including damage to critical bird habitat) and clean energy now.

Danger in the Nursery: Impact of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal on Birds. By Jeff Wells, Ph.D., Boreal Songbird Initiative; Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Gabriela Chavarria, Ph.D., NRDC. November 2008. Print version, $7.00. Order print copies.

Here is another link on the same subject: Millions of birds could die from oilsands development

I would also like to pass along a link to the Cornell Online Store.