Monday, January 25, 2010

Total Species 95 Thanks To A Rain Turkey

I was optimistic that I might reach 100 species by the end of weekend. My total was at 89 for the month and I only needed 11 more to reach my goal.

On Saturday, I attended a field trip that concentrated on finding gulls . I was surprised when a group of about 30 birders showed up. I was hoping to pick up a species or two and to learn a little bit more about gulls in the process. It's going to take me a long time before I become any better at gull identification because I can only take it in small doses. Nice weather, socializing with other birders, and a good field trip leader made the trip enjoyable. The trip took place at Windsor Landfill. We had a great view of a pair of Bald Eagles that were perched in a tree at the edge of the landfill. I was able to add Glaucous Gull to my January list. It was basically an all white gull with a black tipped bill which you can see even in this distant photo. I think it looks like Snoopy's head attached to a pair of gull wings. The white object might be a UFO-(unidentified flying ornithologist from another planet).
On Sunday, I went back to Hammonasset for another visit. There were dozens of Yellow-rumped Warblers throughout the park. They are nice to look at but they distract me from finding other birds. After a while I lose patience trying to check through every yellow-rump to see if another warbler is mixed in with the flock.
I knew that I wouldn't leave Hammonasset empty handed. I was able to add Black-bellied Plover (above), American Bittern, Common Eider, and Great Horned Owl. The owl was being mobbed mercilessly by a murder of Crows. It flew from one side of Willard's Island to the other several times. I found an eider which had some striking black and white markings, particularly in the face. I had been hearing about a King Eider in the area but this one didn't seem to match the description of a King Eider. When I took a closer look in the field guide, I realized this it was a Common Eider, not a King Eider. The female was swimming right along side him. This was the first close-up view that I've ever had of a Common Eider. I took today off hoping that I might get in a little local birding. Unfortunately, the forecast called for heavy rain for the entire day. I woke up early anyway, and was able to get 2 hours of birding in before the rain really started coming down. I took an early morning walk through Hurd Park hoping that I might come across a Brown Creeper. If a creeper made a sound from any direction within 50 feet of me I was ready for it. I gave myself a false alarm when the zipper from my vest made a jingling creeper-like sound. After an hour of walking through the rain soaked woods, I came up empty. Not a creeper was stirring, not even a titmouse.

-I decided to change my strategy. Instead of walking though the woods, I would drive past large open fields out in the country. I was sure that I would eventually come across a turkey if I drove past enough fields. I saw deer, crows, even pet Mallards, but not a single turkey.
I finally decided to give up and go back home defeated. When I returned, what did I find standing in the front yard of a nearby house? You guessed it! -number 95-Wild Turkey!

-Although, I didn't reach 100 this weekend, I still have another chance to reach my goal next weekend. My wish list includes: Ruby-crowned kinglet, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Field Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Brown Creeper and whatever might turn up.
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It was back in November that I was fortunate enough to discover a Red-headed Woodpecker in Northwest Park. He finally became number 90 on my January list this weekend after two failed attempts. It didn't seem to be bothered by the attention of other birders as it went about its business of searching for food in the top of a tree. I haven't been a able to get a decent photograph of the bird but did manage to capture a short video.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Hope To Reach 100 Before I'm Out Of Gas

I knew that driving around the state for the entire day trying to add birds to your list can be exhausting but I decided that it would be best to give my max effort early on so that I could relax a little towards the end of the month. I'm at 89 species now and hope to exceed 100. It won't be easy but I should be able to slow my pace a little and select birding areas that are closer to home for the remainder of the month.
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The American Coot photo was taken at Birdseye Boat Ramp in Stratford this past Saturday. I spent the day at the western shoreline with a few other birders who are also working on their Big January lists.

One of our first stops was at Sherwood Island State Park. We spotted 3 Red-breasted Nuthatches upon entering the park. This Red-tailed Hawk was posing in a tree as we entered the beach area. Maybe it's compiling a people list for the month of January. We scanned the water and spotted numerous Long-tailed Ducks gathered together in the distance.
We saw a small flock of Boat-tailed Grackles gathered in a small urban park in Stratford. The female is easier to identify with its bronze coloring.
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The weather was terrific on Saturday. It was clear and sunny with temperatures in the upper 40's. You can't expect much better than that for a day in the middle of January in the state of Connecticut. I've been using Meopta Meostar 8x42 binoculars binoculars for over a month now. They've performed really well in the dismal weather conditions we've had during that time but it was great to finally use them on a cloudless day. We stopped at Long Beach and found a few Lapland Longspurs foraging for food in some vegetation along the bay side of the beach. There were also a few sparrows including this Savannah Sparrow. Some of the Savannah Sparrows at Long Beach are of the Ipswich variety.
The Great Cormorant like the one in this photo taken toward the end of the trip is the more common of the two cormorant species to be found in Connecticut during January. it has white showing near the base of the bill on the side of its face. We were also able to find 2 Double-crested Cormorants.

I didn't get home until dark on Saturday and by Sunday I needed a break from the hectic birding pace of the previous day. I took a ride to a place along the Farmington River where a male Harlequin Duck had been reported for several days in a row. After an hour of looking around we were finally able to locate the Harlequin Duck next to a Common Merganser. That was a nice addition to my January list and a lifer as well.
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Notice how this coot takes a quick break to do some preening before continuing on with its search for food. I hope everyone else is coming along well with their January lists. I'll look forward to reading your posts soon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Birds To Get Before The Sun Has Set

Late Thursday afternoon, I found an adult Bald Eagle and 3 Great Cormorants along the Connecticut River in Portland just before the sun went down. It's encouraging to know that as the month progresses we will have a little bit more sunlight each day. As you can see in the photo, the river is starting to freeze up. By the weekend it became increasingly difficult to find areas of open water inland.

I had a welcome visitor show up in a patch of woods near my work site. This is the third year in a row that a Pileated Woodpecker has shown up at the same location in the month of January. I am curious if this is just a coincidence or if there is some particular reason for this annual occurrence. Is it the same bird? Is there some particular food source that is only available in this area during the month of January? Inquiring minds want to know. On Saturday, I headed toward the western portion of the sound. I started my morning at Long Wharf in New Haven where I was able to add scaup and Ruddy Duck to the list. Afterwards, I drove down to the Stratford area. I ran into a group of birders from the Greenwich Audubon who pointed out some Gadwall to me. My next stop was to Long Beach which was only a short drive down the road. The first birds that caught my attention were Brant which were busy adding to their frequent flier miles as they flew from the bay side to the sound and back again. I walked along a narrow strip of beach and scared up a few American Pipits along the way-pip pip hooray!
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I met a birder from Minnesota who was looking for a previously reported Orange-crowned Warbler. I joined him in the search but we were unsuccessful. I was on my way out when a second birder came looking for the same bird. Something told me that he was going to find the warbler the minute I left so I decided to stay and join him in the search. We reasoned that the bird may have moved up near an area near the old cottages to gain protection from the wind. We eventually found the warbler which was more colorful than what I had expected based on what others had described to me. It was not only a nice addition to my January list but it was also a lifer for me! Afterwards we searched for evidence of roosting owls which didn't add anything to my totals but was an interesting process nevertheless. My last stop was at Frash Pond and I was happy to see that the Canvasbacks were there as expected. It was a long day of birding and I didn't add as many species as I had hoped to. I wasn't as efficient with my time as I should have been. I took some wrong turns and didn't make it to some of the places that were on my agenda.

On Sunday I made a stop in Old Saybrook. I saw both Common and Red-throated Loons at Saybrook Point. Afterwards I took a ride over to Fenwick Point. I came across a sign advertising the Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center and was reminded that Miss Hepburn used to have a house in the Fenwick section of Old Saybrook. I read somewhere that Katherine Hepburn continued to swim in the sound until she was in her 80's. I wonder if any birders ever met her while they were out at Fenwick? My best find athis location was a flock of 31 Surf Scoters which made for an interesting view in the scope. I enjoyed watching them taking turns dunking and diving. I ended my morning early and headed back home. I decided to take a picture of this American Robin which seemed to be suffering from a shortage of crab apples until I noticed that there were plenty of them on the ground beneath the tree.
I wonder if this was the robin's way of trying to "curb" its appetite?
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My total as of today is 70 species. From 70-100 gets much harder. There's still time but the month is going by very fast for me. I will post the list in its entirety at the end of the month.
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Big January participants:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Big January Update: 54 Species So Far

This scene was taken through my truck window as I was heading though East Haddam. There were snow flurries throughout the entire weekend and we had wind gusts up to 40mph on Sunday. The weather didn't prevent me from adding to my list of species for January but it did make the task a little less pleasant.
These European Starlings didn't seem to mind the snow flurries. They were having a grand old time in this puddle of melted snow. They were awfully bold. I wonder if they think they are camouflaged by their little white speckles in the snowy weather? The Horned Larks at Hammonasset Park were bothered at all by the snow. I enjoyed getting a close up view of their facial markings. It brought some color and contrast to what was otherwise a gloomy day.
The larks were burying their bills into the snow and plucking out bits of food. I have no idea what this one found but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a leftover from a happy meal.
Meig's Point was super windy and cold. I lasted about 5 minutes outside of my truck before my hands went totally numb. There was a nice variety of shorebirds in the area including Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlin, Sanderlings, and ............
Purple Sandpipers. The one on the right can't seem to decide if it wants to hop across or peck the rock in front of it. Life is always full of tough decisions. There was a few distant birds in the water that I missed out on because I didn't bring my spotting scope. I didn't plan on ending up at hammonasset but I should have brought it just in case. My ideal spotting scope would be 10.5" long (would fit in my vest pocket), have a 30x high definition image, have image stabilization technology (so I wouldn't need a tripod), and would sell for $169.99. If you find something that fits that description please let me know.
I found my good old reliable Bufflehead at the saybrook causeway. The only challenge of finding them here is that you are not allowed to stop your car on the bridge. It didn't say that you couldn't slow down though and that was all that I had to do to identify these Bufflehead. For some reason, oreo cookies come to mind when I see them. After crossing the bridge I found a Gray Catbird hiding in the bush. It ignored my attempts at pishing which rarely happens with the catbirds I encounter in the spring or summer.
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It wasn't a bad start for me but I know that the month will got by quickly and I have to make the most of the weekends. If you live in Connecticut and reach 90 species by the end of the month, you can send your list to the COA to be published on the listserver. Click on the COA website link for details. I'll look forward to visiting your blogs in the upcoming week to see how everyone is progressing with their lists.
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Here is my list so far: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe ( in saybrook marina), Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Horned Lark, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, American Tree Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.