Monday, January 23, 2012

Finally, A Gull That Stands Out In The Crowd!

We had our first snow storm of the year this weekend so I decided that Hammonasset would be a convenient place to see if I could add some species to my January list. They do a good job clearing the roads at Hammonasset after it snows and new birds can show up there at any time. I started the day with a walk along the Moraine trail and found a flock of gulls that were actively feeding near the shoreline.
I don't have the patience to spend a lot of time studying gulls like  but I have tried I've to make a habit of searching through larger flocks hoping to find something different. On this particular morning, I noticed one particular gull that was mostly white and had an all dark bill. That fits the description of an Iceland Gull but I'm not sure of the age. (1st winter-2nd winter-anyone?). It's so nice to see a gull that looks different from all the other around it. I've seen a couple before but this is the first one that I found on my own.  
There was a good number of shorebirds along with the gulls. I was able to add a few new species to the list including Fox Sparrow but the Iceland Gull  was my most rewarding find of the morning.
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click to play
Here's a video of the Iceland Gull swimming with the other gulls

Note: My species count is currently at 83 for the month. I'm hoping to reach 90 but time is running out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bird Search Led Me To Fox Afflicted With Mange

Finding new species to add to my Big January list was much more difficult in the second week. I put more effort in than I did the first week but was only able to add 10 new species to my total which now stands at 78 for the month. I spent some time exploring areas along the lower Connecticut River. There didn't seem to be much bird activity in this area during my visit. I found the land birds to be especially quiet. I didn't find any blackbirds and there were very few sparrows or finches around.
The birding was so slow that even took time to chat with a Ring-billed Gull .
There were some Mallards at the Essex town dock eating cracked corn that someone had tossed onto the boat launch.
There were two American Coots mixed in with the ducks. Coots are related to rails which are known for being elusive birds. These coots reminded me more of chickens the way they were pecking at the cracked corn. I found it interesting to learn that coots lay their eggs in floating nests that are anchored to aquatic plants.
.....and check out those funky looking feet!
At first I was excited to find this Red Fox  so out in the open. They have a beautiful coat of fur when healthy.
After watching this fox for a few minutes I realized there was something wrong with it. Notice how its eyes are almost closed and the tail is missing fur. It also didn't show much fear when people passed by with their dogs. An internet search revealed that these are all symptoms of mange. Sarcoptic Mange is caused by tiny mites that live in the skin. It can be cured with proper treatment
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I reported the fox to local wildlife authorities. I hope that this poor  animal will get the help it needs before it is too late.

Big January Update: In week two I added ten new birds to my list for a total of 78 species. Two of the more interesting additions were a Red-headed Woodpecker and a Northern Shrike. Both had previously been reported on the CT daily bird report.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First Week Summary Of Big January 68 Species

New Year's Day
I started my January list on New Year's day. I started out by checking the local ponds in the area for waterfowl.These local ponds are usually frozen by now but it has been an unusually warm start to the winter in Connecticut so far. I was able to find Common Goldeneye on the Connecticut River, Hooded Mergansers at Great Hill Pond, and Ruddy Ducks at a reservoir in Wallingford. My biggest surprise of the day was probably a Ring-necked Pheasant that was hanging out near some bushes while I was scanning the Connecticut River. I was having a bit of an issue with my lower back muscles tightening that morning. I must have resembled Frankenstein's monster the way I was staggering around with my tripod. I managed to pick up 27 species on the first day. During the week I added Red-bellied Woodpecker and Turkey Vulture to the list.
 Hammonasset State Park January 6th
I've learned from previous years that the shoreline is the most productive area to find birds in Connecticut this time of the year and there's no better place to start than Hammonasset. I was pleased to find that the same shorebirds that I had Meig's Point a couple of weeks ago were still there. I started with Ruddy Turnstone on the rocks, better make that a double.
   There were also Dunlin, Sanderlings , and Purple Sandpipers (above). Out in the water were a few more birds to add to the list including a Common Eider.
   I found a flock of Horned Larks (above) at the nature center parking lot. There was also a couple of Snow Buntings mixed in with the flock.
 I found this Great Blue Heron near the nature trail. Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush, and Northern Harrier were other birds I found during my walk along the trail. All together, I was able to add another 17 species to the list while at Hammonasset. The best part of it was the weather. It was sunny with temperatures that reached the upper 50's!
 Westport, Stratford, and New Haven January 7-I followed up my trip to Hammonasset with a visit to the western shoreline the next day. This involves quite a lot of driving so I decided to carpool with my cousin Bob. He has only a casual interest in birding but does like to see new birds like the Brant in the above photo. 

There was a lot to see at Sherwood Island in Westport , especially out on the water. I counted 2 dozen Long-tailed Ducks. That's not something I get to see very often. There was also a Horned Grebe which can be a lttle bit of a challenge for me to find.
 He was impressed with the bright green Monk Parakeet but I think the bird of the day was the Great Horned Owl. I'll just say they were somewhere along one of our stops. We were able to view 2 owls though a scope from about 30 feet away. A fantastic view! I was afraid that I might disturb the owls if I tried to move into a good position to capture a photo.
 We also searched the Stratford area which has several good birding areas. We first walked the old rail trail that leads to some salt marshes. There were some juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons there. We next checked an area behind a nearby warehouse. That is where we found the Golden-crowned Kinglet in the photo as well as a Great Egret. We were able to find Canvasback and a Double-crested Cormorant at Frash Pond.
 
Our last stop of the way was at Long Wharf in New Haven. There were a few Scaup around and lots of Ruddy Ducks.The final species to be added to the list was a Peregrine Falcon which had been sitting on a sandbar before flying past us.

 My species list for the month at the end of the day was 68 but I've added a couple more since then. I'm not holding myself to any rules but I tried to green it up a little by staying local on the first day and then carpooling on my western shore trip. You can see my total list of species for January here. This list is also located at the top of my sidebar.
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click to play video of rare Long-tailed Kite