Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cuckoo Birding

 I haven't posted on the blog for a while but I've still been out and about birding over the last couple of weeks randomly visiting places with no real strategy in mind.

 I'm not sure what that Killdeer (above) is eating but it looks as though whatever it has passed the "sell by" date. 
 I made a visit to Devil's Hopyard. A singing Winter Wren, Magnolia Warblers, and Acadian Flycatcher were among the more interesting birds I found at this location.
 I like to get out early as we start to enter warmer weather and have seen deer like this one which was crossing the road at Gillette Castle state park.
 I did a little cabin camping at a privately owned campground. State campgrounds that I usually stay at are opening late this year and some have been closed due to budget cuts. It was a different experience staying at a private campground which had a store, swimming pool, and even had music playing in their bathrooms.
I was happy to get a nice view of this Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Gillette castle park. They seem to be plentiful this spring but are more often heard than seen. I usually have a difficult time even getting a glimpse of one. 

Yellow-billed Cuckoos eat as 100 tent caterpillars at one sitting.You can find more information about these unique and interesting birds on Cornell's All About Birds website.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

5 Ways I've Been Taking Shortcuts While Birding

 There are so many new birds arriving this time of year that I find myself taking shortcuts while birding. Here are 5 examples:

1) Ears only:When I'm walking through the woods I rely mostly on my ears to hear signs of bird activity. If I don't hear anything then I keep moving unless...
2) Scanning for movement: I scan treetops for movement. I ignore common birds like robins and chickadees while trying to locate movement of warblers or other migrant birds.
3) Skip the list: Sometimes I don't keep a complete list of birds if I'm looking for particular species. I just look for new species and don't bother tracking birds I've already seen. Sorry eBird. I know that is frowned upon.
4) Right bird right location: After a while you get to know when and where you can find certain species of birds in your area. For example, Chestnut-sided Warblers can be tricky to find in my town so I went to the exact same spot I saw one last year and there was one waiting for me when I arrived.
5) Driving through the state forest at 5mph with my windows down and eyes wide open: this method allows you to cover a lot of ground that you wouldn't be able to cover by foot.

I'm not thrilled taking shortcuts. I'd rather just get out there and walk about slowly savoring every bird I see but there is just so much to see right now and getting warbler neck (pinched nerves from looking up in trees) is no joke. I need to get it out of my system before I can slow down again but that is something I am looking forward to.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ibises And Egrets Break Prior To Warbler Rush

 There are a ton of birds to be seen over the next month as birders
try to figure out the most effective use of their time before warbler migration reaches its peak in May. This weekend I switched back to the shoreline to search for big birds that I haven't seen yet this year. There was about 200 Ibis hanging around the Clinton area.
 We made several stops along the shoreline between Clinton and Old Saybrook including the Stewart B. Mckinney Wildlife Refuge Salt Meadow Unit in Westbrook.
 I remember when I first started birding I was told some of the things to look for when identifying Snowy Egrets included: black bill with yellow lores, black legs, and yellow feet. I used to get confused before I realized that yellow feet aren't always yellow if the Snowy Egrets feet are covered with mud. This was my first snowy of the year.
The number of Osprey along the shoreline is amazing. You can see them at almost every turn. 

Despite the drizzly day we were able to see a number of new year birds before the arrival of the great warbler rush in May.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Field Sparrow Singing At Machimoodus Park

 I visited visited Machimoodus Park this morning which is one of my favorite local go-to spots in the area. One of the things I like about this park is the open areas which makes it easier to get better views of birds as opposed to being in dense woods.
 There were a lot of Field Sparrows around today. They have a pink bill, unmarked breast, and a white eye ring. They are pale looking overall compared to most of the other sparrows. I usually find them in open fields that are moderately overgrown. They also have a very distinct song that helps with identification.
click to play
 Machimoodus also has lots of woodland trails to explore.
I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of a Barred Owl tucked away in some evergreens off in the distance. 

It was a beautiful morning to be out with the birds this morning. The temperature reached 80 degrees in today in Connecticut.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Herons And Osprey Return To Their Nests

 I made my way down the long path to the local rookery to check on the status of the Great Blue Heron population. I counted 65 on or near the nests and saw many more in flight. This picture shows just a small portion of the numerous nests.
 Some of the nests are looking a little skimpy after the long winter and might need a little reinforcement.
 Someone built a single nesting platform along the river in Portland and it didn't take long for the Osprey to find it. Usually I see my first osprey near the shore where there are dozens of nesting platforms so it was a nice surprise to find my first pair right here in town!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Hometown Coming And Going Birds

 This is the time of year that I headed out to search for birds hidden away in the flooded fields at Wangunk Meadows.
 Over the last couple of weeks I've noticed Wilson's Snipe have been arriving in good numbers.
There are also a variety of ducks passing though like the Green-winged Teal.
The Common Mergansers seem to be moving out of our area. The last pair I saw were swimming in the rain-what a glorious feeling they're happy again! I know I can some up in the northwestern corner of Connecticut if I want to visit them in the summer.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mud Hen Pool Party

 I stopped by south cove in Old Saybrook last weekend. There were plenty of ducks to be seen there including my first Northern Pintail of the year.
 This place is always loaded with Mute Swans. Many times I have counted over 100 hear, not that anyone's counting.
There was also a good number of American Coots. They are not more closely related to Sandhill Cranes and rails than they are to ducks. Some people call them mud hens. There are a lot of interesting details about coots that you can read about on the excellent All About Birds website from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 
click to play
I captured a video of them swimming around diving for food just below the causeway bridge.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

What's Worse Than Forgetting My Camera?

 Sometimes when I get up  early to go birding on the weekend I forget some of my birding gear because I'm in too much of a hurry. If I forget my scope it's no big deal. I can still get by with the use of my camera and binoculars. Forgetting my binoculars is more of a disappointment but then I usually concentrate my efforts on getting better photos. 

The one thing that bothers me most is when I forget my camera. I  don't like being without it because I know that will be the morning when a great photo opportunity will present itself. 

So what could be worse than forgetting my canon 50x superzoom camera? The top photo is of a kodak Duaflex II camera which was recently discovered packed away in an old box down in the basement. I wouldn't even bother taking photos of birds if I had to use that old camera. I don't know what a "kodet' lens is but I doubt  it would take close-up pictures of birds and I wouldn't want to bother developing the film.
I forgot my camera this weekend but decided it was worth the ride to back for it. Even an average photo (Red-breasted Merganser) from the Canon would top my best efforts using a kodak Duaflex. I'm sure that it would come in handy if I was living in the 1950's but for for now I think I'll just put it on the shelf as a reminder of how much cameras have advanced in technology since then.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Thankfully Pileated Woodpeckers Aren't Extinct

I remember a few years ago there were reports of a possible sighting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker which was thought to have been extinct. It must be quite a sight to see a 20" long woodpecker with a 30" wingspan.
We don't have any Woodpeckers quite that large in Connecticut but we do have the Pileated Woodpecker which is about 16" long with a 26" wingspan. One nice thing about Pileated Woodpeckers is that they are definitely not extinct (listed as least concern). They are in fact plentiful, although you do have to be at the right place and right time to get a good look at one. I always take time out to watch them when I come across them because you never know if they might become more scarce in the future. Let's hope not!
Here's a 30 second video

Sunday, February 26, 2017

More Sun- More Food -More Birds

 We had a winter warm-up this week with temperatures exceeding 60 degrees. Most of the snow melted and the birds were loving it. I've seen Mourning Doves basking in the sun....
 American Robins have already started their switch from a winter-berry diet to picking out meaty morsels as the surface of the soil begins to thaw.....
...and this Northern Cocky-mocker left its highly guarded berry-bush to head out on ground patrol. We've had a nice taste of spring and the real thing will soon be here!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ruddy Ducks Catching A Little Sun

  I had the pleasure of seeing Ruddy Ducks sunning themselves this morning. 
It is usually difficult for me to get a good view of the subtle plumage detail on the wintering Ruddy Ducks.- (breeding males have bold color)
From a distance I usually identify these diving ducks out by seeing their scoop-shaped bills and upright tales.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Don't Prejudge A Cloudy Winter Day

 When I looked out the window early this morning I was discouraged by the sight of piled up snow and grey skies. I decided to take a pass on birding for the day and headed to the local diner for breakfast but tossed my birding gear into my trunk just in case I had a change of heart. 

After breakfast I decided to take a ride down to the shore just to have a quick look around. I took my camera out to snap a picture of a Hooded Merganser that had his bill tucked in. I was happy to see that there was just enough light to get some bird photos.
 I found a nice flock of Horned Lark picking through piles of sticks and dirt protruding though the snow. I only spent about an hour at the shore but was able to add Brant, Horned Grebe, and Black Scoter to my year list. 
Just as I was about to arrive home, I noticed a large number of ducks down in the brownstone quarries. Not surprisingly, most of them were Mallards.What I didn't expect to see was over 20 Wood Ducks swimming near the shoreline. I rarely see them here and certainly didn't expect to find them in the middle of February!

Ignoring the cloudy skies and piled up snow turned out to be a good decision. I was able to see some unexpected birds and it turned out to be a warm and comfortable day considering it's the middle of winter.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Back To Scoping Birds Thanks To Good Service

It was during one of the Christmas counts that my  65mm Vortex Viper spotting scope came loose from the tripod and hit the ground hard enough to break the eyepiece. In the back of my mind I thought it had some sort of warranty on it but you never know if a warranty is any good until you have to use it. I brought the broken sand-covered scope back to the Audubon Shop in Madison where I bought it. Within two weeks my scope was fixed, cleaned, and ready for pick-up at no charge. That's what I call good old-fashioned service!
After picking up my scope I stopped at a few spots along the shore to see what I've been missing like this Common Loon down near Saybrook Point...
Common Goldeneyes just down the road at Cornfield point...
...and this Bufflehead which was standing on a log which is something I don't see often because they always seem to be in the water when I find them.

If you ever happen to be in the Madison area be sure to stop by The Audubon Shop where they carry Vortex and other quality optics. The store is loaded with all things birds and birding. They have a try before you buy policy so you can test out any scopes or binoculars they sell with no pressure to make a purchase. (I'm not getting anything for mentioning this. I  just appreciate good products and services which aren't always easy to come by). 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Winter Woodland Oasis At Highlawn Forest

 I love taking a hike through the woods on a sunny winter day but it can be tough to find birds in the forest this time of the year. I walked for about a mile on one trail and saw nothing but a crow flying over and heard only the lonely whistle of a distant titmouse.

On my way home I made one more stop at Highlawn Forest which is located in Middletown next to the Connecticut Forest And Park Association Headquarters. I sat on the bench and leaned up against that table to try to hide myself  a little. 
I visited this place once before during spring migration but thought-meh-not much out of the ordinary to see here. I was a bit spoiled at the time from seeing so many migrants at other prime locations so I didn't give it much of a chance. 

As it turns out, the vernal pools and damp leaves make this a winter oasis for woodland birds. In a time span of about 20 minutes I saw 30 robins, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, 5 titmice, 3 White-breasted Nuthatches, and 3 Golden-crowned kinglets, including the one in the photo. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

No Car No Phone No Problem

 I found myself without a car this weekend due to some unexpected repairs. I could have rented a car or have my wife cart me around but I decided to get back to basics instead. I walked, used a somewhat limited bus system, and rode my bike to get around. I even shut my cell phone off. While waiting at the bus stop I heard interesting stories about life on the streets. One of the passengers told me about how he left everything behind to work on a pipeline in North Dakota for 6 months. Everything he needed was provided by the company including food, housing and a great paycheck. He saw all kinds of wildlife and said that it was a spiritual experience for him. 
When riding around on a bike you see things that you don't notice when you're in a car. I found this $5 bill on the ground when I was riding my bike through a ball field. 

It seems that we've become so dependent on cars, phones, and the Internet that many people feel lost without them. My father's generation talked about having to walk uphill in the snow both ways to get to school. I grew up without cable or participation trophies and our entertainment was playing outside. I wonder if the current generation wil be able to adapt to unexpected adversity? 
 Birding by bike is not something I do often but it has some advantages. I felt as though I had more birding time because every minute counted. When you're driving from one spot to another you miss a lot.  Being limited to a bike route is a good thing. You tend to stay more focused on your surroundings which helps to heighten your senses. Dark-eyed junco was the most abundant bird species of the day. I saw at least 100 of them.
 I followed the Connecticut River along an industrial road which led me across the railroad tracks and past brownstone quarries, ball fields and boat yards. I saw many Song Sparrows, 4 Bald Eagles and about 30 other species during my ride. 
 It was a nice quiet ride on a sunny day with almost no traffic or people to be found. The few neighbors I did pass by were friendly enough although this one seemed green with envy! 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sunny Skies Minus Wind = Perfect Winter Day

The only day I've been out birding this year was on 
New Year's day. Winter isn't my favorite season but on days when the sun is shining and the wind is silent it makes for a perfect winter day. I could feel heat rising up from the sun-drenched soil as I was walking along the river trail. Sometimes it's the little things in life that make all the difference.
One of the bonuses of birding on the first day of the year is that every bird you see is the your first bird of the year but I'm still waiting for my first bird photo of the year (old photo). Golden-crowned-Kinglet (above))is on my wish list for next weekend.