Monday, May 25, 2009

I Just Want To Enjoy Nature Not Fix It

I think most people spend a great deal of time thinking about ways to organize or improve things throughout the course of a day. What I like about about hiking is that I can just observe and appreciate nature without feeling the need to change it. Imagine if people could make adjustments to their natural surroundings using a remote control. I'll bet there would be some people straightening branches, changing the paths of streams and lining up trees in neat rows. This is one of the reasons I don't always keep a complete species list on every outing. I want to experience nature not organize it. I just take notes according to what interests me at the time and keep a complete species list when I feel like it.
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I went birding with Ed and Sarah a couple of days ago at Gay City Park in Bolton. I was giving them a little introduction to birding. We had a nice view of a few interesting birds including a female Scarlett Tanager, male & female redstarts, Veery, Ovenbird, Wood Thrush,Yellow-throated Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler, and Eastern Phoebes. It can be really difficult to find birds through binoculars when you are new to birding so we really took our time trying to get good looks. We worked on learning some of the songs too. I enjoyed introducing them to new birds and liked birding at a slower pace. Ed pointed out the Lady Slipper to me in the top photo.
Can you identify the plant with the red and green leaves ?
What kind of bush plant do these pink flowers belong too?

Last Tuesday I went camping for a night at Devil's Hopyard. The only warbler that came close enough to me for a photo was this male American Redstart. You can see the little bristles on the side of its bill. I suppose I should buy one of those birdjams so I can call warblers in for better photos but it's a little late now since I wouldn't use it during nesting season anyway. I read a sign in Vermont that seemed to say that using such devices was banned there. I'll have to look into that law a little closer.
I really like Gray Catbirds. Not so much when I'm birding because there are too many of them but catbirds seem to be friendly around humans. I had fun watching a pair of catbirds that were nesting near my campsite. A few pieces of dried fruit mix that I had fell out of my bag. One of the catbirds shot over to grab them the minute they hit the ground.
Chipping Sparrows don't seem to have much fear of people this time of year either. This one looks like it got a hold of some fishing line.
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Here's a few of the birds I saw at various parks during the past week: a Hooded Warbler and a Canada Warbler at Hurd Park, Yellow-billed Cuckoos,Indigo Buntings, Prairie Warblers,Blue-winged Warblers, and Worm-eating Warblers at Machimoudus park, and I heard an Acadian Flycatcher calling at a small nature preserve off of 151 in East Hampton. The call does not sound like "Pizza" to me at all. I would describe it as sounding like a chipmunk who had breathed in some helium then came down with the case of the hiccups.
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I caught this Black and White Warbler in action while at Devil's Hopyard. Two weeks of vacation went by for me quickly. It's back to work tomorrow.
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I'd like to give thanks on this Memorial Day to the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Unpredictable Northeast Kingdom

I spent the past week in the northeastern part of Vermont on a fishing trip. This region of the state is referred to as The Northeast Kingdom or simply "The Kingdom" by locals. In 2006, The National Geographic Society named it as the most desirable place to visit in the country. I have no idea how they arrived at such a conclusion, but I do agree that it is a beautiful area. The top photo is of the farm road that our rental house was on. It connects to the Vast snowmobile trail, which led me to a nearby swamp with beavers and an active heronry.

Four of us went on the trip this year; my father, my cousin, a family friend and myself. A fishing trip, like most other trips, requires careful planning including choosing an area to have good fishing opportunities, the proper boat for the area, fishing gear, food supplies, etc. The reason you do all this is that you hope to have a certain degree of control over the outcome of your trip. The reality is that virtually nothing in life is certain and this trip was a reminder of that.

We did not catch a lot of fish as we had hoped. Probably the top fish caught was a 21" Lake Trout, but other than that the fishing was very slow. Fishing can be unpredictable in these areas. The fishfinders shows there are loads of trout in the ponds but if the water temperature isn't just so then they won't bite. I find that the weather forecasts aren't reliable in the far northern regions either. All week I saw rain in the forecast but other than the day we arrived, we barely saw a drop. I hoped to finally find the elusive Black-backed Woodpecker at a place called "Moose Bog" during our stay but the only woodpecker I saw in that area was a Northern Flicker. The house we stayed at was more than adequate but some of us were disappointed to find that the pool table that was listed on the website turned out to be nothing more than a toy. From my standpoint, it was more house than we needed. I prefer a simple cabin in the woods where the emphasis is on nature and you don't have to be concerned about breaking anything. We still enjoyed the trip even though not everything worked out exactly as planned.

Coincidentally, I had been listening to an audio book on my MP3 titled-Comfortable With Uncertainty-108 Teachings . I don't identify myself with any particular religion, but this book had some interesting insight about accepting the unpredictability in life. I found that the narration, which was delivered in a whispered, breathy, tone with flute music playing in the background, also served well as a natural sleeping aid.
I either saw or heard a good number of birds within walking distance of the house. There were numerous Black-throated Blue (above) and Black-throated Green Warblers constantly singing in the area, but they were tricky to photograph. Most of the warbler photos seemed to be blurry or lacked the lighting to show their color, like this one. The male Black-throated Blue Warblers are very pretty when well lit by sunlight. They also have a very soothing Zurr, Zur, Zur Zwee song. I was impressed by the sheer number of those two species. Other interesting species that I encountered near the property included: Blackburnian Warbler, Swainson's Thrush, Belted kingfisher, Common Loons, Common Mergansers , Adult Male Northern Harrier (Gray Ghost), Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ruffed Grouse, Barred Owl, Osprey, and Broad-winged Hawks.
We saw a big hill in the distance that had been cleared by a logging company and decided to climb to the top to get a view. This is a view overlooking Lake Seymour with some mountains in the background. The house we were staying at would be in the left hand corner of the grassy field on the right side of the picture.
I fished for some Brook Trout in this small stream on my way back down the hill. I caught 8 brookies, which were very small but fun to catch anyway. I caught them with worms that we collected the night of our arrival. It rained that day and we were able to collect enough to last the entire week. Anything to save a buck.
As you can see from this photo, I didn't get back until it was nearly dark. Once the sky turned dark, there were thousands of brilliant stars visible in the night sky. Deer and turkey visited these fields every day.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife turned out to be a valuable source of information for places to fish and hike. One of the places they suggested was "Unknown Pond" near the town of Norton. My cousin and I found the name to be very intriguing. The only way to reach it was by hiking up to the top of a very steep hill, way out in the woods. We were getting pretty winded on the way up so I stopped to take some photos of plants. I think the top one is some kind of Trillium. Can you identify this yellow-flowered plant?
After a couple of cell phone calls to Charlie at the Vermont fish and game, we finally found Unknown Pond. We walked around the entire shoreline. That's my cousin Bob walking along the shoreline.
Are these frog eggs of some sort or something else altogether?
What type of birds would one expect to see at the top of a mountain in the middle of a remote part of Vermont situated at the top of a mountain in an Unknown Pond? - Gray Jays? Bicknell's Thrush? Boreal Chickadee? The answers to those questions are No, No, and No. To my surprise, I found a pair of Solitary Sandpipers feeding along the edge of the pond. Not what I expected at all.
The above photo is of a Magnolia Warbler, which was taken in The Wenlock Wildlife Management area. It took us two attempts to find the trail to Moose Bog and I was lost in the woods for an hour on the first attempt. I was sort of disappointed that I never found the Black-backed Woodpecker, but then again, I'm afraid once I find it, the thrill of the search will be over. We did spook up a grouse which might have been a Spruce Grouse, but we didn't get a good enough look at it. Most of the birds we saw were along the main dirt road. I saw my very first Boreal Chickadee who was singing a raspy song in a tree branch above me. He only gave me a quick look before flying off into parts unknown. We had an excellent view of a singing Canada Warbler. There were plenty of Golden-crowned kinglets in the area and Winter Wrens were singing everywhere.
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I was able to catch two very short clips of the Magnolia Warbler, which I spliced together, but at least I was able to capture it while it was singing.
No trip up north is complete without spotting a moose. "Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat". - See you next time Bullwinkle!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Return To The Quiet Corner

Joan and I visited Connecticut's Quiet Corner this weekend. We spent most of Friday traveling along country roads looking for new places to explore. I made a few wrong turns along the way, but sometimes taking a wrong turn is what exploration is all about. Joan loved being a passenger as she checked out the numerous farms, historic buildings, country homes , and unique stores .

We made our first stop at a place that I've been curious about for a while, The Creamery Brook Bison Farm. I was pleased to find that there was more than just Bison living on the farm.

I didn't see any signs saying so but I believe the birds in the top photos are Emus. When you look at these birds, it's not hard to imagine that they might be relatives of the dinosaurs. They're kind of cute too, aren't they?

I had to pull back in a hurry when this female peafowl tried to take a peck at my camera. It may not be as showy as the male, but a nice bird to look at nevertheless. The history of the Peafowl goes way back to the time of the Phoenicians.
What would a Bison farm be without Bison? The one on the far right looks like it has been eating quite well. I'll bet you it weighs as much as some of the new cars that I've been seeing on the roads lately.
Another place of interest was the Safe Haven Farm in Hampton. They breed and sell Alpacas. That impressive looking building is their country store. The store wasn't open at the time of our visit, but what we were most interested in was seeing the Alpacas. So what exactly is an Alpaca? It is a domesticated species of South American Camelid that superficially resembles a small Llama. They are specifically bred for their fiber. It looks like this one recently had a haircut.
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We were allowed to take some photos and video footage but visitors are required to be accompanied by one of the workers while around the animals.
We spent the night at Feather Hill Bed & Breakfast. The rooms were very clean and the house was nicely decorated with additional rooms for the guests to relax in. The Innkeepers are Fred and Angela Spring. We enjoyed talking about birds with Fred. He, himself, is a birdwatcher and keeps his feeders well stocked. I spotted a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak while seated at the dining room table. We went to Mozzarella's Italian Grill for dinner. We had Eggplant Parmesan and Fish & Chips. The quality of the food was very good and the prices were reasonable.
We left early Saturday morning so that we could spend some time birding before heading back home. I brought Joan to a place that I had previously visited, Trailwood Nature Preserve. The house you see in the picture was the former home of Edwin Way Teale.
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Joan has a pretty good eye when it comes to spotting birds but she does not spend every weekend birding the way I do. I was hoping to point out a few colorful migrant birds that would be new to her. She spotted the Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows on her own. She admired the way the steely blue color of the swallow contrasted with the pure white underside of the bird. We were able to spot a House Wren and Eastern Phoebe near the stream. She was excited when she saw her first Black and White Warbler and I was happy to witness the event. It was cloudy with occasional showers throughout the weekend. This can make it even more difficult to zero in on warblers that can be challenging enough even on sunny days. We took our time slowly wandering about the preserve. There was one bird singing a burry sort of song that sounded familiar to me. After some time, I was able to locate and identify it as a Yellow-throated Vireo (photo -4/08). I saw my first Gray Catbirds and Blue-winged Warblers of the year. They seemed to be abundant throughout the area we visited.

After departing from Trailwood, we continued to head West and made a stop at James L. Goodwin Forest. We had nice views of Eastern Towhees, Black-throated Green Warblers and Pine Warblers there. We were surprised when we ran into our friends Tom, Denise, and their dog Myah. What are the odds of seeing people you know out in the middle of a remote forest? While driving along a road that took us deeper into the woods, we saw a pair of hawks perched in a tree . At first I thought they might be Red-shouldered Hawks but after getting a closer look and hearing their call, I recognized them as Broad-winged Hawks.
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Our weekend was a memorable one. We enjoyed the places we visited, the people we met, the birds we saw and most importantly, spending time together in Connecticut's Quiet Corner.