Monday, June 29, 2009

Behold The Mighty House Wren

One of the drawbacks of devoting much of the weekend to birding is that you tend to fall behind on certain yardwork. There are a couple of chores in particular that I find especially disagreeable. The first is cleaning my gutters. They get filled up with those little twirly-bird maple seeds that, when saturated in stagnant rain water, makes a particularly nasty organic soup. Another is removing the strangling weeds that wrap their evil vines around the hedges. No matter how cautious I am in approaching this task, I always end up getting a a Poison Ivy rash. It's probably just me. I'm sure for some people this type of yardwork would be their idea of a good time.

This weekend I finally managed to complete these dreaded tasks. As I was working, I noticed the House Wrens were also busy working, singing and gathering food. Somehow, I felt comforted by the fact that I wasn't the only one who had responsibilities to take care of.

These little House Wrens start singing before daybreak and don't stop until after dark. I enjoyed watching them try to fit oversized sticks through the hole in the nestbox. It took them a while to get the hang of it. They are also known to be very aggressive to other birds that try to nest near their territory. They don't have much competition in our yard so that's not really a problem. I found it interesting to read that they add spider eggs to their nests. When the spiders hatch they eat the parasites in the nest and the wrens have an added food source to snack on.

Afterwards, I sat in the shade to watch the birds, butterflies and insects that visited the gardens.

I keep very small gardens so they are easier to maintain. Wrens are supposedly good to have around gardens as they eat some of the insects that might otherwise be damaging to plants. So far, I've sampled some red leaf lettuce and basil. Pretty soon the yellow squash will be ready.
I'm always hearing people talk about honeybees and how important they are. What about bumblebees?

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For the last couple of years there hasn't been many honeybees in our yard (which is kind of concerning). It's the bumblebees that have been doing most of the pollinating.
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Behold the mighty House Wren
as it flies from tree to tree
with a bold and bubbly song
that cries out "Look at me"!
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Finding spiders in the hedges
and ants beneath the brier
the skill with which it gathers food
is something to admire
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He perched upon the nestbox
then sneakily flew in
checking briefly on his family
then its off to work again

Monday, June 22, 2009

Making The Transition To Summer Birding

The last couple of weeks I've felt as though I've just been going through the motions while I've been out birding. The weekends have been cloudy and raining leaving me with dozens of bird photos that might as well have been taken with the lens cover still on. The increasingly dense foliage has made viewing birds in woodland areas much more difficult. This weekend marked the official start of Summer. I made the decision not to dwell on the negative aspects of my least favorite season but instead, try to appreciate what each moment has to offer.

Butterflies: I saw plenty of butterflies this weekend but they seem to know that I'm coming at them with a camera often flying off just at the moment I'm ready to press the shutter. Two of them were kind enough to stay still for me. The first was a Great Spangled Fritillary seen in the top photo...
and the other was this American Painted Lady which was resting on a pebble path.
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Field Trip On Saturday: I met up with a few birders at 6:30am to co-lead a field trip. Our first stop was at Hurd Park in East Hampton. One of our objectives was to search for Hooded Warblers which was a lifer for one of the birders. We were in luck as we found several which seemed to fly back and forth across the path stopping to sing from various locations. After we were satisfied with our views of the Hooded Warblers, we decided to take a short ride down the road to Machimoudus Park. There seems to be a greater variety of birds there and the habitat is more open making it easier to locate them. By the end of our trip we saw or heard ten species of warbler including: Hooded, Worm-eating, Common Yellowthroat, Pine, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-winged, Prairie, American Redstart, Ovenbird, and Black-throated Green.
There were a few flycatchers including : Great-crested, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, and one that was sitting on a nest with its head peaking out. We had some difficulty in trying to figure out which flycatcher it was but did take note of the fact that it had an orange lower mandible. I noticed in one field guide that Willow Flycatchers have an orange lower mandible. The following day I tried to take a photo of a Pewee which didn't come out to well but guess what? If you look closely, you can see that the lower mandible is orangish in color.
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The nice thing about birding with a small group in the summer months is that there is no reason to be in any hurry. If you want to stop and search a little longer for a specific species or take time to study an individual bird a little closer then summer seems like a good time to do it.
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Here are some of the other highlights of our trip: A singing Scarlett Tanager perched out in the open for all to see, nesting male and female Baltimore Orioles, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, Chimney Swift, male and female Indigo Buntings, Eastern Bluebird, excellent views of Wood Thrush and Veeries, Barn Swallows, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Rough-winged Swallows, Tree Swallows, and a flyover Purple Martin.
We came upon this snake that was resting upon a brush pile. Someone identified this as a Black Racer Snake. Unfortunately, many snakes are unnecessarily killed by people who are afraid of them.
On Sunday, I drove through Meshomasic State Forest. It was raining off and on so I rolled my windows down to do some birding by ear as I traveled down the dirt roads. At one point, I had gotten out of my truck to track down what turned out to be a singing Black-throated Blue Warbler. As I was walking towards the woods an older gentlemen pulled up next to me and asked me what I was up to. It turns out that he was concerned that I might have been after these mushrooms which he had staked out earlier in the week. He seemed quite relieved when I told him that I was only looking for birds, not mushrooms. I don't know the name of these mushrooms but he did tell me that they taste like chicken.
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Mystery Warbler Song: I heard this warbler singing in Meshomasic Forest on Sunday and couldn't figure out which species the song belonged to. It was too deep in the woods for me to chase it on such a rainy day so I decided to just record it and then try to identify it later. After searching through a bird song CD I decided it sounds like a Canada Warbler. Do You agree? I thought that was pretty interesting. I didn't expect to find a Canada Warbler in Portland this time of year.
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I was able to record this Eastern Wood-Pewee in the midst of calling out its song. It reminds me of someone hailing a cab. I like the way it looks around and contemplates the right time before letting out its piercing whistle.
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The color of this male Scarlet Tanager manages to show through even though the video was taken on a cloudy day in a shaded tree. It is calling out its two note song-chick-burr , ca-ching or whatever else you want to call it. I make up my own description of songs because they often sound different to me than what is described in the field guide.
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This weekend was all about paying close attention to birds songs and observing details that I might normally overlook. I'm looking forward to see what next weekend will bring.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Worm-eating Warblers & The Leather Man

I spent this weekend exploring the area of Middletown, which lies east of Route 9, also known as Maromas. It represents almost 38% of the city's land area but only 5% of its population. There is plenty of great habitat for birds and other wildlife here, including flood plain, streams, riparian corridors (including Hubbard Brook), reservoirs and wetlands. There is another notable feature of the landscape in Maromas; rocky hillsides. Worm-eating Warblers prefer this type of habitat and I found many of them while hiking through these woods. The bird in the top photo came out to let me know I was getting too close to its nest, so I moved along quickly.
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The Worm-eating Warbler is sometimes overlooked because it is not flashy like some of the other wood warblers. It has a buffy breast, along with black crown stripes, and a stripe through the eye. It's song is a buzzy trill, similar to a Chipping Sparrow, but is described by Peterson as being thinner, more rapid, and more insect-like.They are sometimes easier to hear than see and I've seen them skulking low in the undergrowth. I don't think the Discovery Channel will be contacting me to use this footage but it gives you an example of what they sound like. This particular bird seems to have a trill that is a little more metallic sounding than some of the other WEW's I heard this weekend.
I spent most of Saturday morning following the railroad tracks along the Connecticut River. I came across this Green Heron as I passed by a swamp filled with noisy frogs. Do you think the heron knows the frogs are there?
I counted 7 deer during my hike. This one stared at me for several minutes as I walked toward it. I wonder if it thought I was a train? My favorite deer sighting was when one leaped out of the wooded hillside and landed on the other side of the tracks. I didn't see the take-off or landing so all I saw was a deer floating silently through the air. It probably only took a second but it seemed to be suspended in time. Definitely a moment to remember.
Another surprise was finding this miniature cemetery. It was in the middle of the woods, set high on a hill overlooking the river. Most of the headstones were broken and the remainder of the graves were marked by rocks. What was a cemetery doing out in the middle of nowhere? I think one of the graves had a date from the 1700's but it was too worn to tell for sure. I felt like I was given a secret glimpse into the past.
On Sunday, I walked following the Mattabesset Trail to a blue and yellow trail that loops around some reservoirs. The trails can be tricky here, so I was reluctant to go too far. This is a photo of Reservoir #2 off of Brooks Road.
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About a mile into the trail I found an Eastern Wood-Pewee attending to a nest but it seemed to become aware of my presence so I stayed away from the nest until I left the area. I had a quick glimpse of a hummingbird, checking the flowers on a bush that was below me. I assume it was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but you never know.
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I came across an interesting cave when I accidentally took the blue trail instead of the blue/yellow trail on my way back. Now I wish that I had taken a picture of it. Upon doing some research, I found out that the legendary Leather Man used to travel though this area. The Leather Man was known for traveling a circuit of 365 miles every 34 days through Connecticut and New York. He stayed in caves at night, including one that was in the Maromas portion of Middletown. This started before Lincoln was president and continued until 1889. I wonder if he had an interest in birdwatching? You can read more about the Leather Man here. It seems they still haven't figured out all the facts behind this legend. If you are from the area and interested to see the actual location of the cave, there is a hike on June 13th, which you can read about here on the Middlesex Land Trust website.
I came across a couple of bonus birds as I was heading down Aircraft Road back towards Route 9. First, I saw a Common Raven foraging on the ground along side the road. I also made a brief stop at the Cockaponsett Forest parking lot, which is on the same road, and saw a pair of Eastern Kingbirds (above) perching on posts near the field. It was a nice way to end my birding for the weekend.
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Other notable species seen or heard: Cedar Waxwings (lots), Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, Common Yellowthroat, Blue-winged Warblers (several), Prairie Warblers, Yellow Warbler, Black and White Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Indigo Buntings, Eastern Towhee, Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Red-winged Blackbird, Wood Thrush, Veery, Great Blue Heron, and Fish Crow. Total species about 50. I was also able to see 3 Peregrine Falcons through a spotting scope in a another part of town.

Monday, June 1, 2009

These Chicks Were Real Turkeys!

I spent most of Sunday morning exploring the shoreline town of Guilford, which is bordered by Madison, Branford, and Durham. Guilford is known for its many historical buildings, but I was more interested in finding some potential birding spots. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore, including some that take you around open marshland. I walked part of a marshland trail where I heard a Marsh Wren calling. There were plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds, egrets and a pair of Osprey there. I found this Wild Turkey hen with her poults (chicks) feeding in a grassy area near a yacht club of all places. I think that I counted about 8, but they were camouflaged fairly well. The birds can't fly when they're very young so the mother roosts with them on the ground until they're old enough to fly up into trees to roost.
I noticed a sign that was for public access to Long Island Sound and followed it. It brought me to the town marina. I quickly counted at least 60 Ruddy Turnstones there, but the total number of them was probably closer to 90. They were picking through the grass and muddy bank looking for food. After a while, they flew to the other side where they tried to live up to their name by leaving no stone unturned. I read that besides eating what they find under rocks, they have also been known to eat a variety of other things, including the eggs of some terns.

It's always nice to find new areas to access the Sound from land. A lot of the Connecticut shoreline is lined with cottages in private neighborhoods. I remember a few years back when my father and I were in a 14 foot boat fishing in the Sound. The wind picked up quickly and the average wave height increased to about 4 feet. We were quickly getting pushed farther away from our boat launch and couldn't get back because of the strong winds. We grounded the boat a couple of miles from where we started on a strip of a private beach. Within minutes, someone came running out to check on us. It wasn't our safety he was concerned about. He just wanted to let us know that our boat was on private property and that we needed to move it. What could I say? "Pardon me sir, can you pass the Grey Poupon"?
Another bird that I enjoyed watching at the boat launch was this Barn Swallow. I think it was nesting somewhere in this beam.
It would occasionally fly to the other side of the dock to keep an eye on me making sure I didn't steal any of its insects.
I saw 2 signs for the Lone Pine Trail on Route 77 as I was heading back towards Durham. I only walked up part of it, but plan to return at another time to hike the entire trail. I found these cool boulders..
..... and some kind of toad-(the toads are the ones with bumpier skin compared to frogs-right?).
Feel free to identify it if you can.
I was done for the morning and was heading back home when I passed by this sign and said to myself-"What did that say?" I just had to turn around and go back. The sign was on a barn that was set on a large piece of property with a large old-fashioned house. It said what I thought it said; but what did it mean? Could the name of the family actually be the Insultings? That would be hard to believe. Do workers live on this farm and have to put up with a lot of negativity from the owners? Is this a Bed & Breakfast where people with big egos go so that they can be brought down to earth by the innkeepers? Is this an estate owned by a sharp-tongued comedian like Don Rickles or Joan Rivers? Maybe it's just some people with an quirky sense of humor who put the sign up to make people wonder, like me! video
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Maybe the Turkeys know the real story behind Insulting Manor.