Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Bird Count & Big Semi-green January

I recently participated in the annual Salmon River Christmas bird count. The territory we cover is right in my home town which is very convenient. The top photo is a view overlooking Kelsey's Pond in Portland. It was a chilly day but there was plenty of sunshine.
There was an abundance of White-breasted Nuthatches. The females like the one above have a gray cap versus the males which have a dark black cap. 

  There were some species we expected to see that we didn't find this year including kinglets and creepers. We were surprised that we couldn't find a single Northern Mockingbird. Shh!- don't tell anyone!
This Pileated Woodpecker was partly to blame. It stayed at the same tree chiseling away while the three of us stared in awe! They really stand out from all the other woodpeckers in Connecticut. It was a female which lacks red in the moustache and has a blackish  forehead. Usually they fly off once they notice you but this one wouldn't budge. We couldn't peel ourselves away to get on with the count.

Some of our favorite sightings for the day included: Hermit Thrush, Eastern Bluebirds, Hooded Mergansers, 2 adult Bald Eagles, Common Goldeneye, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Nothing earth shattering but we had lots of fun.
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 For  those of you who may be wondering, I have decided to do a Big January again this year. Big January is when you count all the species you see in your home state (or whatever) between January 1st and January 31st. I welcome you to join me in this annual tradition.

  This year I'm going to try to reduce the amount of miles I drive by walking, biking, busing, and carpooling when possible.  If you like this idea then I encourage you to give it a try.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Biking From Main Street To Birdland

 I spend a great deal of time during the week driving an automobile. I'm thankful for the conveninece a car provides but they do come with a cost. They are expensive to operate and maintain. Exhaust fumes pollute the air and the noise they make pollutes the ear. Driving requires a lot of concentration which adds stress to our lives. These are some of the obvious negative aspects of driving but there is a more subtle point to be considered. When you're in a car your are surrounded by a protective shell of steel and glass that isolates you from outside world. It is impossible to be fully aware of your surroundings while driving.
 I  recently rode my bike to Middletown and was able to enjoy a tour of Main Street that wouldn't be the same if I had driven my truck. I could the smell food cooking in restaurants I passed, see storefront window displays in full detail, and even hear the sound of horses trotting down the street. I was able to drop off mail, get my bike tuned up, and stop for  coffee without having to worry about finding a parking space.
   I was able to get a closer look at historical buildings that I passed by and found it easy to manuevere my way around town to explore anything that I was curious about.
 After leaving the Main Street area I headed down to river road to find some habitat that is more suitable for birds and wildlife.
 I found a Red Fox poking around for food in the woods. It was set back on an embankment near some railroad tracks. The fox seemed as curious about me as I was about him. it stared at me and even walked closer toward me at one point.
 There is a fair portion of land along the Connecticut River which is still undeveloped in the south end of Middletown. I've had good luck birding in this area over the past few years.
I didn't come across anything out of the ordinary during this particular trip but I had some nice views of some birds like this American Robin which tried unsuccesfully to camouflage itself.
 Carolina Wrens are frequently surrounded by vines and branches but they often give themselves away by singing, chipping, or making scolding calls.
   It seems that I'm able to get closer to birds while on a bike but taking photos while trying to stay balanced can be a bit awkward. I had a great view of this Eastern Bluebird but it wasn't at the best angle for a photo.

 I've learned that using a bike for transportation can provide a smooth transition from the modern world to the natural world. It allows you to enjoy the journey, not just the arrival at your destination.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Me And The Sanderlings On An Empty Beach

 I made a stop at Meig's Point in Hammonasset Park on Saturday morning and was surprised to find that I was the only one there. I found a good sized flock of Sanderlings on the beach.
   There were also a few Ruddy Turnstones mixed in with the flock. Since no one was around I decided to get down in the sand with the Sanderlings. The birds were busy trying to get their bellies full so they didn't pay much attention to me.
  I watched one turnstone charge after a couple of the Sanderlings but for the most part they seemed to coexist peacefully.
Later that morning I walked out on the point to look for the less common Purple Sandpipers . The rocks can get very slippery so I proceeded with caution.
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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Can Nature Compete With The Digital Age?

  One of things I enjoy most is a walk through the woods early in the morning . There's nothing like that tranquil feeling when your in some secluded forest surrounded by nature.
Your senses are attuned to the tiniest of details because you are truly in the moment. You savor the sound of a trickling stream or the sight of a deer that comes upon you unexpectedly. Everything seems to have a mystical quality whether it be bird or berry.
 I wish I could say that all of my experiences with nature were like this but it takes more than just being there. It also requires a mind that is relatively free from mental clutter. That's not always possible in this busy world we live in.

 Every day there are new and improved televisions, cell phones, computers along with countless other electronic gadgetry that bedazzles the mind. You don't have to rely on your senses to stimulate your mind when you have a state-of-the-art digital device to do it for you. How can a simple walk in the woods compete with that? I wonder if our current addiction to technology makes it more difficult to find that special connection with nature?
 You can't upgrade a Black-capped Chickadee to a 7.0 version or use a remote control to change a Song Sparrow into a Le Conte's Sparrow.
 It's not possible to send a text message to a Cooper's Hawk instructing it to move into a better position for a photo-op.
  There are so many products to keep us entertained these days, is it even necessary to stay in touch with nature any more? Everything you see in the natural world is only as your senses perceive it to be, but that is what separates it from the modern world. It is real, not digitally enhanced. I believe  keeping our connection with nature alive is more important now than ever before.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Twenty-six Ruddy Ducks Can't Be Wrong

 I recently took a ride to the Durham/Wallingford area in search of ducks and geese. This is known to be a productive area to find certain types of waterfowl, especially in November.
 I was able to find some Green-winged Teal ,  which seem to prefer the most shallow of ponds.
  I don't know what the deal was with this white- headed goose but I'm guesing it must be some sort of hybrid. It looks like Canada Goose that had a bad bleach job and used artificial tanning cream on its legs.
The Canada Geese in this photo were in a small pond on route 68 that is owned by a hunting club. I noticed just beyond the geese were some small ducks.
A closer look revealed that they were Ruddy Ducks. I have found Ruddy Ducks at this pond in past years. I 'm guessing that the depth of the water, type of vegetation, and geographic location are some of the reasons why they return here but I'm curious why they ignore other ponds in the area that appear to be almost identical to this one. They must have their reasons because I counted 26 of them and 26 Ruddy Ducks can't be wrong!

 The Ruddy Duck is a small diving duck that rarely walks on land. It is very difficult for them to walk because their feet are set so far back on their body. I like they look swimming around with their tails perked up in the air. They were an introduced species over in Europe and are considered to be a problem in some areas over there.

 Below are some links to information I found on the web about Ruddy Ducks. Much of the information is the same but each one offers something slightly different.
and there is fantastic photo of a Ruddy Duck on this recent post from Birding is Fun

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Watch "My Life As A Turkey" On PBS Nature Program

  I watched a program on Saturday night title: "My Life as a turkey."
 Here's what it's about: A local farmer left some turkey eggs on Joe Hutto's porch. Joe who is a naturalist with an interest in imprinting young animals, incubated and hatched the eggs. He then spent the next 6 months following these turkeys everywhere. Joe followed them as they foraged through the back woods of Florida, and even joined them as the turkeys roosted in the trees. He learned a lot about turkey behavior, communication, and interaction of the birds with other animals such as deer. It was  amazing to see the bond that developed between Joe and these turkeys. It led to some touching moments as well as some sad moments. It's hard to explain what made this all so interesting. It is one of those shows that you have to see for yourself.

I don't believe you can watch this online but it is going to be rebroadcast on the PBS program,  Nature, several times between Sunday and Wednesday. You'll need to check your local PBS  for scheduled  air times. Here are the scheduled air times for Connecticut.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keys To Proper Misidentification Of Birds

    I suppose I could do a post about how to identify birds just as Bob Dylan could give a seminar on how to sing opera if he wanted to. Instead, I've decided to pass along tips on how to overlook or misidentify birds. You might ask, what purpose would this information serve? I will try to provide some answers to this question in part 1.

Part 1:  The role of subpar birders in the birding community 
  1. If every birder were an expert then what would be the value of an expert birder? There are birders who spend countless hours studying birds in the field, reading books, and tapping into the latest technology to perfect their birding skills. The existence of  birders with subpar skills adds value to this level of achievement allowing experienced birders to share their knowledge with those who have less experience. It also allows those few elitist birders to derive some pleasure in looking down upon incompetent birders with pity and shame. After all, what would the value of gold be if everyone could find it in their backyard?
  2. Misery loves Company: How would you feel if you were the only birder in the crowd that was prone to making mistakes ? As a mediocre birder, you can provide a level of comfort to those who are still finding their way.
  There is so much information and technology available about birding these days that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a level of incompetence. In Part 2 of this post I will provide a few ideas on how to counteract this problem.

Part 2: 7 ways to properly misidentify birds (or not identify them at all)
  1. Relying on color as your determining factor in identifying species: Many times color can be a key field mark in identifying a particular species but you can't always rely on these field marks. For example, an immature Bald Eagle doesn't have a white head , a female Red-winged Blackbird doesn't have a bright red patch on its wing, and maybe that yellow area on the side of a Savannah Sparrow's face doesn't show up so well on a cloudy day. These are some of the reasons why relying on color as a field mark can be a powerful tool in when it comes to properly misidentifying birds. Avoid using complicated field marks such as bill shape or tail length.
  2. If you've seen one grackle you've seen them all: Let's say a large flock of grackles land in a field. You take a glance at the them through binoculars and from what you can tell, they all look like grackles. If you check each individual bird in the flock it's possible you might come across another less common species such as a Rusty Blackbird for example. By looking at the flock as a whole you can avoid the possibility of picking out a rarer species.
  3. Don't bother cleaning the lenses on your binoculars: Regularly cleaning your binocular lenses may remove valuable residues such as coffee, donut smears, oil residue, and other organic materials resulting in improved image sharpness. This could make a difference when trying to distinguish between two similar species that are difficult to tell apart. In order to avoid this possibility just leave the lenses alone.
  4. Let the expert do the work:  Your out in the field with another birder who really knows their stuff. When they point out a bird just accept that they must have properly identified it. Just take a quick glance at the bird as yo admire its beauty and move on. By using this method, you can avoid improving your own birding skills. This is like being a passenger in a car while driving to an unfamiliar place. You won't remember the directions because someone else is doing the driving and you're not really paying attention.
  5. Ignore things like bird behavior and flight patterns: Noting details such as the flight pattern  or behavior of a bird will give unwanted clues as to its identity without relying on field marks. You'll most definitely want to avoid this one!  
  6. Ignore bird songs: Knowing the song of a given species can sometimes be a more reliable way of determining its identity than seeing it. 
  7. Don't trust your instincts: You're out on a field trip with a group of birders and you see a species whose identity is a unknown. Aim your spotting scope at the mystery bird and bring it into focus. Now here's the key- Rely on what everyone else in the group is saying about this bird and ignore what your own eyes are telling you. This is a good way of slowing the rate at which  your confidence grows as a birder.
  Obviously, we've just scratched the surface on this topic. If you have any other ideas on this subject feel free to share!

Note: The views expressed in this post don't necessarily reflect those of The Brownstone Birding Blog

related post: 10 things a new birder isn't required to do

Thursday, November 3, 2011

All Tricks No Treat From Mother Nature

 Last weekend Connecticut was hit with a major noreaster that dumped over a foot of heavy, wet snow in many towns. If this storm was in December it wouldn't be that big of a deal, but this is October! Most  of the trees still hadn't dropped their leaves so snow quickly accumulated on the branches. The  loud crackling sound of tree limbs could be heard as they snapped off and fell to the ground.
It didn't take long before most people lost power, including us. Since we were snowed in,  I decided it would be a good time to start feeding the birds again. I counted as many as sixteen Mourning Doves beneath the bird feeders.
This is a pile of branches that snapped off from one of our trees during the storm.
The morning after the storm I took a walk around the neighborhood and found this Red-tailed Hawk snacking on some sort of rodent.
    Most of the state has been without power since Saturday afternoon due to downed power lines.
    The storm was on Saturday and I took these photos on Wednesday. There has been record lines at gas stations in the city with some people having to wait 2 hours to get gas. Streets have been obstructed by downed tree limbs and power lines. Every traffic was out and had to be treated as a four way stop sign. Some people didn't understand this and would drive right through without stopping. Laundromats were filled to capacity with people trying to catch up on laundry.

  It's been a difficult week for many residents of Connecticut. About half the state is stil without power with 99% restoration predicted by Sunday. There are some good things that happen during situations like this. Friends,family, and neighbors have to rely on each other for help. People are forced to take a break from television, computers, and cell phones. It makes you appreciate some of the modern conveniences you have while you are forced to adapt to diffiult circumstances. I didn't mind the experience but I'm glad we have our power back! 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

White-faced Ibis Visits Portland Fairgrounds!

 I met 3 other birders at the fairgrounds this morning to start an assessment as to whether Wangunk Meadows can qualify for special designation as an important area for birds. (I was with Patrick Comins, Corrie Folsum-O'keefe, and Alison Guinness).

  I've seen Ibis down at the shore a couple of times but was surprised to see one sitting at the pond at the fairgrounds. When we took a closer look at the ibis it appeared to have a red iris and pink skin coloration around the face. This would indicate it is a White-faced Ibis, not a glossy. It also seemed to be smaller than the Glossy Ibis's that I've seen. It's a rare sighting for this area so we took photos for verification (thanks Luke Tiller).
It was quite an exciting find!
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Here's a short video clip of the Ibis in action.

note: If you happen to do any birding at Wangunk Meadows, please log sightings on e-bird. It will help with the project. Caution, Wangunk Meadows is an active hunting area.

Fall Camping At Pawtuckaway & BWBT&C

I spent a couple of days camping at Pawtuckaway State Park in New Hampshire. I stayed at one of the five cabins available in the campground. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice they were. I decided to read the book: "The Big Year" while camping and later saw the movie. They were quite different from each other but I enjoyed them both. The book gave more character background background than the movie did. The movie wasn't perfect but it was great that they even put a movie out with the main subject matter revolving around birding. If every birder sees the movie at least three times then maybe Hollywood will put out another movie about birding!
     They are very simple inside with 2 sets of bunk beds, 1 couch and 1 table. It also had electric lighting and an electrical outlet. Nothing fancy,  but perfect for camping. Both Vermont and New Hampshire have a number of state parks that offer cabin rentals that range between $46 for a single room cabin to $80 a night for larger cottages. This includes Brighton State Park which is in an area where boreal species can be found.
  I spent most of my time exploring the trails within the parks 5,500 acres. There were many small ponds and marshes within the park which afforded nice views of the foliage.
This is a picture of Burnham Marsh which was designated as a wildlife viewing area. If only the wildlife would pay attention to the signs. I did have a stunning view of a female Belted Kingfisher perched in a dead tree. As I was viewing the bird, two onlookers stopped by to have a look at the bird through the scope. They were impressed, saying the kingfisher looked like an exotic woodpecker to them.
    I underestimated the length of the trails I went hiking on and neglected to pack proper supplies (as usual). I can imagine the headlines-"Body of a man discovered in the woods with an empty can of orange-dry soda and an apple core by his side."  "Friends and family said that he died doing what he loved to do." No thanks, I'd rather live. I caught a glimpse of what looked like a coyote sneaking into the woods about 5 miles in. It seems that the beavers were setting up booby-traps by chewing through 95% of a tree and leaving it standing.
There is something special about the fall season. Summer is the season that I feel confined or almost imprisoned by the weather at times. Once the cool fall air hits I feel free again. There's nothing like the stunning colors of New England color and the smell of birding. The flames in this fire have a shape that reminds me of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. Can you see it?
On the way home from the trip I stopped at a Massachusetts Audubon. These turkeys must be smarter than the average turkeys.With Thanksgiving soon to arrive, what better place for turkeys to hang out than the protected land of an Audubon Center?
  I was glad to make it back in time to join Birders who Blog Chirp and Tweet outing. We had a great time meeting up with each other as usual. (photo of Savannah Sparrow)
  We probably did more chatting and eating than we did birding but that's what makes these events fun. We did see a nice array of sparrows including White-crowned (above) and Vesper. One of the highlights of the day was when Kathie found a Dickcissel! It was the first time I've had a view of one. I also learned of a new Internet Radio birding website: birdcallsradio (thanks Mardi). The archives include interviews of Luke Tiller who led our trip, and Mark Obmascik , author of the book "The Big Year".
 It was kind of funny that I went camping for 3 days and couldn't come up with any photos of birds then I went to an event with 16 birders and didn't get any people photos. I believe we saw this Peregrine Falcon at our last stop which was Sherwood Island.
All in all it was a good day of birding and a great time getting together with my fellow bird bloggers!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Field Trip & Influx Of Birds At The Meadows

  Last week we had a field trip at Wangunk Meadows. It was pouring rain when I arrived at the meeting place so I was surprised to see that 6 other birders showed up. We waited for the rain to pass by. We were rewarded for our patience as the rain soon stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. We weren't able to bird the entire area because of the muddy conditions. Instead we concentrated on the areas near the fairgroundsand skating pond.The birders in the photo include members of Mattabeseck and Hartford Audubon. They have their binoculars focused on 4 Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron across the way.
  One of the highlights of the morning was watching a dozen or so Eastern Bluebirds traveling back and forth between power lines and fence posts. Everyone seems to love seeing bluebirds, espceially on  a sunny day. There were Palm Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers in this area as well.
  I've been seeing yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Solitary Sandpipers at the fairgrounds but this sandpiper  was unfamiliar to me. I'd never seen one before but did notice the white eyebrow marking and slightly down-curved bill. We sent in a photo for identification and found out that it was a Stilt Sandpiper (thanks to Greg Hanisek).
 I've noticed Killdeer are curious and will often walk towards my vehicle when I talk to them.
  Later in the week I was ready to move on to try other places but made a quick check of the meadows again. It seemed there was no reason to waste gas driving somewhere else because more birds had moved into the area. I came across a flock of about 40 or so American Pipit.
  The number and variety of sparrows allso increased since our field trip. I found a couple of Lincoln's Sparrows and lots of Swamp Sparrows including the one in the above photo.
Pectoral Sandpipers have been hanging around the area for a few weeks now.
With all the food available in the area I wasn't surprised to see a Northern Harrier show up. This juvenile bird seems to be admiring the white patch on its rump.
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Here's a short clip of the harrier coming in for a landing and then taking flight again.